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Five new epic romance novels, complete with family complications

If their parents weren't at war, would Romeo and Juliet have noticed each another?

A good tempest now and then, particularly one thrown up by a family member, has the power to turn what could have been a perfectly nice but short-lived love affair into a commitment capped with vows.

The five romances that I reviewed this month for The Barnes & Noble Review each feature a tempest of one sort or another, brought about by a family member.

"Scandalous Desires" by Elizabeth Hoyt

1. "Scandalous Desires," by Elizabeth Hoyt

"Scandalous Desires" is a masterpiece of a story that brings together a puritanical widow named Silence and Mick O'Connor, a pirate king.

Normally, a woman like Silence wouldn't tolerate such a reprobate's presence … were it not for her adoration of an orphan child called Mary Darling.

Mick won't allow Mary to live anywhere other than his lair; his enemies will threaten the child. Silence makes the wrenching choice to stay with Mary, first losing her reputation and then her heart to the charming, dissolute and altogether ruthless Mick.

Mick has more than a touch of the great pirate himself, Captain Hook (Hook had forget-me-not eyes and Mick has "all the seductive allure of Satan"). But Silence's seduction doesn't stem from Mick's beautiful eyes, but from their fights: they battle about philosophy and family, ethics and faith and their complicated lives.

For me, this book was one of Elizabeth Hoyt's finest … and that's really saying something about a novel from one of our best writers of historical romance.

"Until There Was You" by Kristan Higgins

2. "Until There Was You," by Kristan Higgins

Posey Osterhagen, protagonist of "Until There Was You," is one of the most interesting heroines I've read in a long time.

She's skinny as a rail, funny, eccentric, and overlooked.

She hasn't truly been in love since the days of her unrequited passion for Liam Murphy, the town bad boy, so she lavishes affection on her galumphing dog, her friends and her family. At least, until Liam comes back.

It turns out he's no longer the reckless ne'er-do-well who used to swagger around their high school.

His beloved wife died of leukemia three years earlier, leaving him the single parent to a teenage daughter. He's forgotten how to enjoy himself, caught up in a morass of rigid parenting rules and fits of near OCD anxiety.

When Liam's custody of his daughter is threatened, he promptly dumps Posey, and it's to Higgins's credit that this wrenching, humiliating scene evokes our sympathy for both characters — and makes the pages turn faster and faster until Liam finally realizes that he has to fight for Posey as fiercely as he fights for his daughter.

"Beauty Dates the Beast" by Jessica Sims

3. "Beauty Dates the Beast," by Jessica Sims

The family complication in debut author Jessica Sims's "Beauty Dates the Beast" stems from the fact that the heroine's sister Sara tends to sprout fur when she gets upset: in short, she's a rogue werewolf, hiding her furry tendencies from other local shape-shifters.

Bathsheba, meanwhile, is an entirely normal human, who happens to work for a dating agency that caters to the paranormal crowd.

Employees — especially humans — are strictly forbidden to date the agency's clients … but what's a girl to do when a powerful were-cougar demands that she produce the date he was promised?

Bathsheba tries reasoning with Beau Russell, leader of the were-cougar clan, to no avail. She ends up going on that date herself. If Beau finds out, Sara will be handed off to a voracious werewolf clan.

Bathsheba will do anything to protect her little sister — as Beau discovers, along with the disconcerting realization that she's the one person in the world whom he can't bend to his will.

"The Very Virile Viking" by Sandra Hill

4. "The Very Virile Viking," by Sandra Hill

The hero of "The Very Virile Viking" is a Viking named Magnus Ericsson who lives in the Norselands around 999. That is, until his longship shows up in a fake lake (complete with a wave machine) in Hollywood, in clear sight of a movie director searching for a new male lead for his Viking-esque feature.

Angela Abruzzi, meanwhile, is desperately juggling a job as a real estate agent to the rich and famous, a failing vineyard and a possible movie location deal with the aforementioned director.

Not only does she curl her lip at the first sight of Magnus and his broadsword, but his boatload of children appalls her. But she succumbs to the director's bribery and lures Magnus and the children to her vineyard so that Magnus can become an actor.

Magnus, on the other hand, has all the arrogance of a medieval Norseman, which includes an unfortunate tendency to address Angela as "wench."

This book offers laugh-aloud, sexy silliness and a very sweet love affair between polar opposites.

"Never Love A Highlander" by Maya Banks

5. "Never Love A Highlander," by Maya Banks

Rionna McDonald is the kind of lass who can't imagine submitting to a husband, even after she finds herself married to Caelen.

In fact, the morning after his wedding, Caelen wanders into the courtyard and discovers two people fighting furiously — one of whom turns out to be his wife — and Rionna doesn't appreciate his dictatorial reaction ("You'll not indulge in such activities again").

But dissension between the newlyweds is not the biggest problem in "Never Love a Highlander;" Rionna's disgruntled, dishonorable father stirs up trouble wherever he can.

I adore marriage-of-convenience stories, and this is a terrific one. Caelen and Rionna battle it out with a passionate intensity that turns "Highlander" into a tale reminiscent of the early novels of Julie Garwood.

Rionna's father threatens the relationship, but not as much as Caelen's stubbornness does, which means that the moment he tells Rionna, "There is not a single part of my heart or soul that you do not own" is hard-won — and wonderfully rewarding.

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