Friday, August 5, 2011
Connie Brockway sweeps readers back to the rough beauty of Regency-era Scotland and into the scintillating, passionate, and surprising love story of a mysterious Highlander and the woman he is pledged to protect. Desperate to keep her two sisters and herself from the poorhouse, Kate Nash Blackburn embarks upon a journey to northern Scotland, where she hopes to gain the gratitude and patronage of a wealthy marquis. When fate maroons her at a tavern full of ruffians, a brawny Highland soldier comes to her rescue. It's Kit MacNeill, the man whose pledge to her family has haunted her for years. When he offers to escort Kate through the treacherous Highlands to Castle Parnell, she accepts even though her instincts warn her against trusting this rough and dangerous man. But soon Kate is startled by the Highlander's cultured speech and courtly manners. Who is this man of contradictions, shaped by a shadowy past, who fiercely wards off an attempt on her life, whose broad shoulders beckon her touch, and in whose arms she comes fully alive?
I had high hopes for this book. Why? 1) I love Connie Brockway and 2) It takes place in the Scottish Highlands. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with it. It wasn't nearly as good as the other Connie Brockway's I've read. One of the things that I love about Connie Brockway is the clever humor in her books. This had none. It was pure melodrama. Plus, it didn't really get good until half way through the book. Her mysterious Scottish highlander hero lacked development as well as her heroine. I just never got inside their heads enough to care about them - what happened?
Kate Nash is a young and pretty - though impoverished - English widow. Albeit from a good family, her father died, leaving Kate, her sisters and mother virtually penniless. Their mother died soon after. The circumstances of their father's death was one in which he sacrificed himself in order to release three men who were jailed in a French prison. The three men who all come from the same remote orphanage in the Scottish Highlands are spies of a sort. They are "rose hunters," part of an order sworn to secrecy to fight France - covertly - during the war. To repay the debt they owe the girls' father, they vow to protect the Nash women if ever they are in need.
Kate finds the whole thing somewhat ridiculous and discounts their oath and forgets about it. But as a few years go by and money has become scarcer, she decides to visit Castle Parnell which belongs to a rich viscount who once showed some interest in her. He is the brother-in-law of her selfish cousin who died in a boating accident with his brother. The castle is far away in Northern Scotland, but she embarks on the journey, for she is desperate. Hoping the viscount will help her with money if she asks, this seems like her last hope. One mishap after another happens on the long road north and just when it looks like her luck has run out for good, alone in a disreputable inn about to become dessert for several unsavory miscreants, a savior appears and rescues her.
It turns out it's Kit MacNeill, one of the three rose hunters that vowed to protect her and her sisters three years earlier. But, he's nearly unrecognizable to Kate after three years. Swarthier, weathered, older looking, he has the look of experience and danger about him. How did he know where she was - is it a coincidence he should just turn up in the middle of nowhere and in the nick of time? Of course not. He works in mysterious ways and for the majority of the book, Kate is in the dark about who he is and his background. But, after beating up her unworthy driver, he offers to take her the rest of the way to Castle Parnell, which is still a great distance.
Unaccountably attracted to him, but also repelled by his coarse manners and abrupt style, she accepts his offer and they must make do in each other's company. He does keep her safe and they gradually grow to care for one another along the road until they reach the Castle. It has been a long, hard, cold journey. Their last night on the road, they give into their feelings for one another and spend the night together. It is blissful and magic, but no one can ever know about it. Kate and Kit don't expect to see each other again once he delivers her to the viscount. But, it turns out there is danger from smugglers and Kate learns her cousin and the viscount's brother were actually murdered. Kit is invited to stay at the Castle by the viscount, who seems like a decent guy, but this only makes the situation between Kit and Kate that much more unbearable. They have to pretend nothing went on between them, only Kate is realizing she is in love with Kit, and vice versa. Kate was hard to figure out, I couldn't decide whether I liked her or not at first, but then she grew on me. I think I definitely would have liked the book more if she had been more endearing to me from the beginning. I understood her transformation, but she was prickly - and not in a good way.
Brockway's writing is usually wonderful, but the pace of this book was plodding and slow, not the usual snappy dialogue and quick repartee's between the hero and heroine. There was no sparkle between Kit and Kate (their names coupled together made me cross-eyed!) The first half of the book took forever for me to get through, but once they had their night together and were at the Castle it picked up considerably.
The key that turned the book around for me was when they finally realized they love one another and the story became poignant. I had warmed to Kate by then, and the plot moved at a quicker pace. Phew! That long trek in the cold was over! But, our hero and heroine have a major dilemma on their hands. Kate needs money and Kit doesn't have any, so even though she's mad about him, she must cultivate the viscount and sacrifice herself. The viscount wasn't a bad man and he seemed to be truly interested in Kate. But he wasn't Kit! She didn't love the viscount. Can love win out and will Kate realize she has to follow her heart and conscience? In addition, Kit has his own qualms and insecurities to deal with. As an officer in the army (he is on leave) he can't possibly expect Kate to follow him if he asks her to marry him. He's a nobody, an orphan, the son of a whore. He feels unworthy of her. Both are unaware of each other's feelings - the usual miscommunication. Their problem was a poignant one, particularly when Kate thinks she's saying good-bye to Kit for the last time. A wave and he was gone...
Even though I was disappointed with the book compared to her others, it wasn't actually bad, just not what I expected from her. I liked the way it all came around at the end with the discovery of who the real villain was and why her cousin and the viscount's brother were killed. This is the first in the Rose Hunters Trilogy, in which we find out what happens with the other two Scotsmen who were let go at the same time from that French prison. I'm curious about them and who will get paired up with who regarding Kate's sisters.