While recovering at his uncle’s estate from wounds sustained in the Sudan, Jack Cameron—a loyal Scottish captain in the British army—is haunted by the words of a dying officer: one of Her Majesty’s Black Dragoons is aiding the slavers they were sent to suppress. But how will he find the traitor without sending the culprit to ground? He finds a way while listening to the voices beneath his open window—particularly those of Addie Hoodless, a beautiful widow, and her brother, Ted, a famed artist commissioned to paint portraits of the Black Dragoons’ senior officers.
Posing as an artist, Jack decides to infiltrate the close circle of friends at Ted’s studio to listen in on the unguarded conversations of the officers. But first, he must win Addie’s trust despite the emotional wounds of her past. Will Jack dupe the only woman he has ever loved or stand down from hunting the traitor? If his real identity is exposed, Addie’s life will be in terrible danger.
Publisher and Release Date: Montlake Romance, September 2015
Time and Setting: London, 1880s
Genre: Victorian Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by Lady Wesley
In Highlander Undone, Connie Brockway creates a complicated hero, a heroine with hidden scars, and a tangled plot involving deception, treachery, and romantic yearning. Yet although I enjoyed the book, I could not help but think that the plot got away from the author at times (or perhaps it just got away from me). There are moments, however, during the developing romance between Jack and Addie where their unexpressed attraction to one another is so stirring, so passionate, and yet so chaste that heartstrings are tugged and a little tear may appear in the reader’s eye.
The main characters are likable and compelling. Captain Jack Cameron, handsome and brave, is a career soldier in the Cormack Highlanders. (The book’s title is a bit misleading: aside from Jack’s being in a Highland regiment, don’t expect anything else distinctively “Highlander-ish” in this story.) Although he was grievously wounded and sent home from the Sudan to die, he recovers with the assistance of Wheatcroft, his “factotum-cum-nursemaid-cum-valet.” Perhaps his recovery is related to his obsession, for he is determined to discover the identity of a traitor who is aiding the slavers that the army was sent to fight. His decision to masquerade as an artist is rather audacious, given that he has no artistic skills and knows virtually nothing about art. He manages to fake things by posing as a dilettante and “fribble,” although Addie’s brother Ted suspects that there is something bogus about him.
Ted, by the way, is the kind of brother any girl would love to have. He is very protective of Addie, to the point that he was crippled by her sadistic husband when trying to protect her. He is the only person who knows the extent of Addie’s suffering during her five-year marriage to Lieutenant Charles Hoodless, whose only saving grace was that he “punished” Addie by withholding sex. Actually, Jack learns of Hoodless’s cruelty during his weeks of bedridden eavesdropping on Addie’s and Ted’s conversations, but he can never reveal his awareness.
Addie is a heart-breaking character, beaten literally and figuratively into a shell of her former self. The daughter of artists, she grew up in a Bohemian household and was vivacious and self-confident. Inexplicably, she fell in love and married Charles Hoodless despite his own parents warning her of his true nature. (This extraordinary step is mentioned only in passing, and I really would have liked to know more about that!) Now, less that a year after Hoodless’s death, she is still withdrawn and has an extreme dislike of all military men. Nevertheless, she agrees to emerge from mourning early and travel to London with Ted to act as his hostess and to chaperone any ladies who are sitting for portraits.
When Jack is introduced into Ted’s circle, he and Addie immediately begin to form a friendship, which grows as Jack becomes protective of Addie. This is tricky, given that Jack must conceal his soldier’s bearing, occasionally playing the fool and resorting to his sharp wit. When the Black Dragoons who visit Ted’s studio belittle Jack, Addie is surprised to find herself wading into the fray to protect him. It’s quite wonderful to watch Addie emerging from her defensive cocoon.
As Addie and Jack grow closer, Jack discovers evidence suggesting that Charles Hoodless could have been the traitor Jack is seeking, yet he knows that he could never expose Addie to the shame that would accompany the revelation of Hoodless’s crimes. Jack also realizes that he must confess his own deceit to Addie, even knowing that this will probably doom their budding romance. Personally, I was not bothered by the depths of Jack’s deception, but some readers may find it unforgivable. I did, however, become impatient with Addie’s inflexible rejection of him once the truth emerged. It took a bit too long for her to set aside her prejudices and decide to trust the man she knew so well.
Overall, Highlander Undone is a beautiful romance with some distracting, unlikely plot elements involving Jack’s search for the traitor.