To her usual successful mix of romance, humor, and spicy sex talk (think Wife of Bath with a pinch of dominatrix), the author of the Legacy trilogy (The Valentine Legacy, 1995, etc.) adds a rather substantial leavening of Disney-esque animal characters to a story set in 1277 England. They include Gilbert the castle goat, who gives milk and eats gauntlets; Edgar the Wolfhound (to whom Severin of Langthorne ties Hastings, his young wife, when he wants to humiliate her); Alfred, the huge housecat and familiar of Hastings's teacher, a recluse called the "Healer" who hates all men until she's smitten with Severin's man Gwent ("that lack-witted oxhead"); and Trist, the cute marten who cuddles beneath Severin's tunic. Besides comic relief, Trist's loving presence signifies to Hastings that the fierce-looking stranger to whom she's been betrothed isn't the scary warrior she first imagines. Severin has just returned from the Crusades to find his brother dead, his mother mad, and his estate penniless. With the blessing of King Edward, he has come to Oxborough Castle in East Anglia to wed Hastings, an heiress. He wants a sweet submissive wife who will give him an heir and leave him alone. Instead, he finds a strong-willed young woman well versed in self-preservation and herbal healing. (Borla root in ale makes a "manhood" flaccid; mugwort and primrose heal a swollen nose.) Beneath the usual conventions of the genre and some spirited good humor is Coulter's standard grim underpinning of domestic violence and marital rape--though this time, while not dispensing with them, she does suggest that men are not as deadly as they seem, especially if skillfully handled. Standard bawdy fare, Coulter-style, though the violence may offend the growing number of romance readers who are dissatisfied with rape in any form.