Tag Archive | Scotland

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Highlander Who Loved Me by Tara Kingston

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Johanna Templeton is on a life-and-death quest. Swept into an intrigue that rivals the tales she pens, she joins forces with a Highland rogue to find the treasure that will save her kidnapped niece—a prize the Scot seeks for reasons that have nothing to do with ransom. Engaging the Highlander in a sizzling battle of the sexes, Johanna shields her heart.

Connor MacMasters, spy for Queen Victoria, is a man on a mission—keep a legendary gemstone from an evil man. Trailing an American novelist who holds the key to the treasure should’ve been simple, but Johanna awakens feelings he’d long thought dead. Torn between duty and desire, he wants her in his bed, but loving her would be a fool’s game. Blasted shame his heart doesn’t agree.

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EXCERPT

“My, lass, this is a surprise.” His husky burr was slow and deliberate and so very male.

Johanna lowered the lamp and slowly pivoted to face him. Oh, my!

Connor MacMasters stood before her. Fully, gloriously naked.

Gulping a breath, she forced her gaze to remain above his waist. His hair was damp, and he hadn’t shaved yet. Thick, dark stubble accented the strong contours of his jaw. Her gaze trailed lower. A slight sheen glistened on his broad, muscular shoulders while tiny beads of moisture dotted the dark hair on his chest.

That full, sensuous mouth of his quirked at one corner. “Have ye come to show yer appreciation for my chivalry? Or have ye decided my company is preferable to the specters that roam this old house?”

Liquid warmth filled her, a longing that penetrated to the bone. For a moment in time—a heartbeat, perhaps—she could think of nothing but the taste of his kiss, the feel of his lips against hers, the sound of her name in his raspy burr, whispered in a moment of passion.

That hint of a smile broadened. “Something wrong, Miss Templeton?” His tone faintly teasing, he put undue emphasis on her state of wedlock—or lack of. “Am I to believe ye werenae expecting me?”

She forced her head to shake in weak denial. “I…I wondered where you were. I heard noises.”

“Noises, eh?” He arched a dark brow. “The rattling of chains? Ghostly moans? Or weighted footsteps, perhaps?”

“Nothing like that. Probably just a mouse.”

His other brow lifted. “After all ye’ve been through, a mouse sends ye running?”

“I detest the filthy little creatures.” That, at least, came out with the conviction of truth. “I thought you’d gone to sleep.”

“Not yet.”

Damn him, the Scot made no move to put on a stitch of clothing. Not so much as a towel. Unable to help herself, her gaze dipped lower to the etched, muscular plane of his abdomen. A line of sable hair traced a decadent path from his navel lower, to a thick patch of hair even darker than that on his head.

She snapped her eyes up. He caught the motion, his mouth twisting with wry amusement he made no effort to hide.

“Am I to believe ye entered my chamber—searching for me, no less—because you feared a rodent might launch an attack?”

“I feared no such thing,” she countered. Her pride chafed at the incredulous humor in his voice. “I was alarmed. Nothing more.”

He folded his arms at the waist and rocked back on his heels, infuriatingly casual for a man who stood without a stitch to cover him. “By the saints, I’m the one should be alarmed. ’Tis not often that I emerge from my bathing chamber to find a comely lass beside my bed, threatening to compromise my fine reputation.”

“Compromise…your reputation?” The words plopped from her tongue like the last stubborn drops of molasses in an upended jug.

“Aye. I am an unmarried mon. What would anyone think, finding me alone in this room with a bonny lass who’s gone to such lengths to seduce me?”

“Seduce…seduce you?” Dash it all, she sounded like a parrot that had fallen off its perch and landed on its head.

“I can think of cruder terms. Would ye enjoy that?” He prowled toward her, his toes sinking into the plush carpet with each step. Lamplight gleamed over the contours of his chest, warming his skin with soft, golden rays.

She gave her head an urgent shake, as if to clear it. Stiffening her spine, she held his gaze. “I assure you there’s no need.”

His head moved slowly up and down in agreement. “Verrae true. Who needs talk at a time like this?”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

tara-kingstonAward-winning author Tara Kingston writes historical romance laced with intrigue, danger, and adventures of the heart. A Southern-belle-out-of-water in a quaint Pennsylvania town, she lives her own love story with her real-life hero and a pair of deceptively innocent-looking kitties in a cozy Victorian. The mother of two sons, Tara’s a former librarian whose love of books is evident in her popping-at-the-seams bookcases. It goes without saying that Tara’s husband is thankful for the invention of digital books, thereby eliminating the need for yet another set of shelves. When she’s not writing, reading, or burning dinner, Tara enjoys movie nights, cycling, hiking, DIY projects, collecting dolls, and cheering on her favorite football team.

The Rebel of Clan Kincaid (Highland Warrior #2) by Lily Blackwood

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LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD

Since childhood, Magnus has been led to believe he is the Laird Alwyn’s bastard, and raised to hate the Clan Kincaid. But when he learns he is without a doubt the son of the murdered Laird Kincaid, his life as he has always known it is shattered. Now, hiding his knowledge and his fury, he returns to Burnbryde Castle, awaiting the chance to strike against the man whose treachery robbed him of his legacy. His first act of rebellion: to steal a kiss from the redheaded beauty who’s betrothed to the Alwyn’s eldest son and heir.

Since her arrival at Burnbryde, Tara Iverach has been confined to a tower to guard her virtue before she marries. But after a surprise embrace with a lean, bare-chested Highlander who claims to be the Alwyn’s oldest son, she can’t contain her excitement over her good fate. Unfortunately, he is the wrong eldest son, and she is set to marry his cruel and lecherous half brother, Hugh. Can Magnus conquer his rivals and claim his Kincaid destiny before the woman who’s captured his heart becomes his sworn enemy’s bride?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, December 2016

Time and Setting: 14th Century Scotland
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

I do enjoy a Scottish Highlands tale, and the description of this one really intrigued me. Who doesn’t like a good tale of betrayal and vengeance? The Rebel of Clan Kincaid is second in a series, following right on the heels of The Beast of Clan Kincaid, and while I may have understood some of the politics and secondary characters better had I read it, this one stands alone just fine.

The story begins with Magnus, raised as the bastard son of the Laird Alwyn, discovering that he is really the son of the murdered Laird Kincaid and that he has been serving his parents’ murderer all his life. Initially thrown for a loop, Magnus soon develops a burning desire for vengeance and vows to bide his time until the day he can prove Alwyn guilty and avenge the death of his parents and the loss of their ancestral lands. As a fierce warrior and chief of the laird’s war band, he is in the ultimate position to enact his plan with the help of his newfound brother, Niall. But the arrival of his half brother Hugh’s betrothed threatens everything when Magnus falls in love with the vulnerable yet surprisingly brave beauty.

Tara Iverach, ward to the powerful Earl of Buchan, has spent the past five years in a priory. When the earl pays her a surprise visit, Tara hopes for a life outside the convent, and she is about to receive her wish, but at a terrible cost. Her beloved older sister, Arabel, has died, and Buchan needs Tara to take her place in a wedding designed to strengthen his alliance with Alwyn. But life at the Alwyn stronghold of Burnbryde turns out to be a nightmare rather than a dream. Locked in a tower, deprived of companionship except for a maid and the ailing Lady Alwyn, Tara quickly becomes suspicious of the circumstances surrounding her sister’s death. Her betrothed is a malicious, angry man who takes pleasure in terrifying her, and Buchan’s intentions and ambitions prove to be less than honorable. The only bright spot is her growing attraction to her betrothed’s half brother, the handsome and noble Magnus. But their illicit romance is fraught with danger, and though Magnus promises to help her escape marriage to Hugh, when his ulterior motives come to light, Tara realizes the only person she can rely on is herself. But will she be able to pull off a daring escape by herself? And if she does, will she be able to leave Magnus to his fate?

There were some things I loved about this book and some things I did not. What it has going for it: a good bit of history, following the warring of the clans after King David II’s death and featuring the real figures of the Earls of Buchan and Carrick; likeable and compelling characters in Magnus and Tara; and some last-minute twists I didn’t see coming that really bumped the story up in my estimation. What I’ve marked against it: the romance is more of a love-at-first-sight thing, which doesn’t allow for much relationship development; too much internal dialogue that grows repetitive over the course of the story; a couple of cliched plot devices that cheapen the story, including the big misunderstanding; and villains that were too over-the-top to be believable – although one of them eventually merited some compassion and understanding when one of those big twists was revealed at the end.

The unpredictable resolution of the plot threads and an incredibly romantic ending satisfied me and cemented The Rebel of Clan Kincaid as a book that I can recommend to my fellow romance lovers despite my complaints. If you’re a fan of Scottish romances, this one has a more unique setting and underlying historical thread than most. I was so intrigued by Niall and the mystery surrounding the third long-lost Kincaid brother that I do plan to read the other books in the series.

When a Laird Finds a Lass (Highland Fairy Tales #2) by Lecia Cornwall

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She is his greatest enemy and his only salvation.

Malcolm MacDonald, a lawyer in Edinburgh, unexpectedly inherits his father’s title of Laird of Dunbronach, forcing him to return to a place he hasn’t seen since he was a small child. To gain the trust of a wary clan, Malcolm must act upon their insistence that he cast aside his English betrothed and marry a Highlander.

However, they have one condition—no lasses of the barbaric clan MacLeod.

When he finds an unconscious woman in the sea, he brings her back to his clan but not before doing the one thing that could save her life—hiding her all too telling MacLeod plaid. When she wakes with no memory of who she is, Malcolm vows to keep the little he knows about her identity a secret. As new dangers threaten his clan, the mysterious lass teaches Malcolm some very important lessons about how to be a Highlander and a laird.

But secrets never stay secret for long, and when she finds her plaid, her memory returns and she flees. Malcolm is forced to make a difficult choice to win her back, facing his darkest fears and his worst enemy for a chance at true love.

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Publisher and Release Date: Swerve/St. Martin’s Press, November 2016
Time and Setting: Scotland, 1707
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Lecia Cornwall has set her stories in the Scottish Highlands but the characters and their struggles to find love ever after are very familiar. In When a Laird Finds a Lass there are some parallels to the story of The Little Mermaid; however the spin here is that the young heroine finds her true voice rather than sacrificing it to find her hero.

Marcail MacLeod’s heart is broken when she discovers the man she hoped would marry her having sex with another woman. With her pride just as bruised as her heart, she makes the mistake of accepting another man’s offer of marriage just to escape humiliation and take back control of her future. On the way to his lands Marcail learns that her new betrothed has no intention of being faithful to her either. She risks everything by jumping into the sea to escape an unhappy marriage.

On the shores of Dunbronach the new laird, Malcom MacDonald, discovers an unconscious young woman wrapped in the plaid of his clan’s enemy, the MacLeods. Malcom was raised as a lowlander in Edinburgh and has only recently assumed the leadership of the impoverished clan after the death of his estranged father, who insisted that Malcom become laird. The elders of the clan want Malcom to continue the old ways and feel that the next step is for him to marry but they warn him away from any woman from the MacLeod clan. Fearing that his people will reject helping the unconscious woman strictly because of her clan association, Malcom hides her plaid before taking her to the healer.

Awakening in a strange place, the woman has trouble remembering her name or the circumstances that brought her to Dunbronach. Some of the people believe she could be a selkie and give her the name Ronat which means “seal.” Others believe she could be a spy and are wary of trusting her. Only Malcom knows the truth of her affiliation and protects her as much as he can by keeping her close. He is attracted to her and enjoys their conversations as she recovers physically but he is aware that her lost memories could hide more than just her name. She could be married or may not wish to associate with a MacDonald because of the enmity between their clans.

As Ronat finds her place within the MacDonald clan she sees the struggles Malcom faces almost daily to lead his people. He wants to do what is right for the community and the land but is untried as a leader and is seen as an outsider from the Highland way of life. Ronat’s memories may have gaps but in her heart she knows how to approach the situation from a highlander’s perspective. She shows Malcom that he can make important changes by listening to his people and showing them that his ideas will gain them exactly what they need. Together they become a team but there is still that uncertainty of who Ronat truly is. Malcom wants her in his life but still fears his people could refuse to have a MacLeod as the laird’s wife.

When a Laird Finds a Lass takes its time developing the relationship between Malcom and Marcail (Ronat) to allow a reader to get a true sense of their growing partnership. The challenges Malcom faces with his clan keep him on shaky footing until Ronat is there to keep him secure his position. As he finds his strength as a leader she is right there, finding her voice as a woman. The community accepts her, Malcom listens to her and she is allowed to flourish because she has no memory of her previous life as daughter of the MacLeod leader. Marcail comes to love Malcom while watching him embrace his inner highlander and trust in the traditions of his clan while still folding in his knowledge of the modern way of doing things. He tries to fight his feelings for Marcail because there of the question mark about her identity, yet Malcom is at his best when he lets her get past those defenses.

I appreciate that the obstacles in front of Malcom and Marcail being together aren’t artificially put in their way. Clan politics and loyalties mean something to both characters and cannot be ignored just because of their attraction. I also liked that the fairy tale undercurrent of the story is brought forth through the Dunbronach peoples’ belief that the laird will be granted a wish for his people by a princess of the sea. When a Laird Finds a Lass shares a setting with the previous book in the Highland Fairy Tale series but stands alone with its storyline and resolution. I enjoyed the subtle sense of magic that brings Malcom and Marcail together and hope there will be more to come in the next book.

The Earl (Devil’s Duke #2) by Katharine Ashe

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How does a bookish lady bring an arrogant lord to his knees? Entice him to Scotland, strip him of titles and riches, and make him prove what sort of man he truly is.

Opposites…

Handsome, wealthy, and sublimely confident, Colin Gray, the new Earl of Egremoor, has vowed to unmask the rabble-rousing pamphleteer, Lady Justice, the thorn in England’s paw. And he’ll stop at nothing.

Attract.

Smart, big-hearted, and passionately dedicated to her work, Lady Justice longs to teach her nemesis a lesson in humility. But her sister is missing, and a perilous journey with her archrival into unknown territory just might turn fierce enemies into lovers.

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon, October 2016
Time and Setting: England and Scotland, 1822
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

I had not read Katharine Ashe before, and I found the description of The Earl so intriguing that I jumped at the chance to review it. This is the second book in the Devil’s Duke series, which is a spin-off of the popular Falcon Club series; and while some brief snippets of backstory are included for new readers like me, I did find myself a tad confused as a lot of names and incidents were mentioned throughout that I was unfamiliar with. Though I probably would have had a bit more understanding and appreciation for the backdrop this story is set against had I read the previous books, the main story and romance in The Earl was able to stand alone just fine.

The story begins with a heartbreaking prologue featuring Colin Gray, the future Earl of Egremoor, as a child who cannot speak, and I was instantly sucked into the story, burning through the early pages as Colin, aka Peregrine, and Emily, aka Lady Justice, are introduced, and we learn that though they don’t know each other’s true identities, these two enemies share a long and troubled history. Having been abandoned by her only friend at the age of nine, Emily has forged her own path in life, championing women’s and working class rights while eschewing the traditional role of wife and mother society expects of her. Her alter ego – crusading pamphleteer, Lady Justice – has made quite the name for herself, and she’s also made a few enemies, including Colin, who she calls out in her pamphlets for refusing to support her causes. She has also struck up a correspondence with the mysterious Peregrine, member of a shadow group that specializes in finding lost people, and now she needs his help. Her own sister has gone missing, and Emily is determined to find her. But the price may be too high to pay: Peregrine wants to meet Lady Justice face-to-face. She finally agrees to a nighttime meeting in a shadowy park, and manages to hide her identity; but during the brief and intense exchange, she discovers a shocking truth: Peregrine is none other than Colin Gray, the man who broke her heart and never looked back so many years ago, a man who represents everything she hates about English society. Emily abruptly tells him she’s changed her mind and no longer needs his help and flees before he can discern who she is.

Though the lady insists she no longer needs his help, Colin is determined to find the woman anyway, and when he does, he will finally unmask Lady Justice and expose her for the charlatan she is. He begins his journey in Scotland, planning to travel to the woman’s last-known location, when he runs into the last person he ever expected to see on the road, Emily Vale, his best friend from childhood, and a woman he has tried to hard to forget. She’s not best pleased to see him either. After realizing she can’t count on Peregrine to help, she’s taking finding her sister into her own hands and is answering a mysterious summons to visit Castle Kallin, home of the maligned “Devil Duke.” Unfortunately, she and Colin are quickly thrown into close quarters when they are mistaken for a pair of highwaymen wreaking havoc on the countryside, going so far as to murder an innocent woman, and all while one dresses like a woman and the other uses Colin’s name. On the run from vengeful villagers, the two try to stay a step ahead of vigilante justice as they make their way to the castle, Colin determined to find out why Emily holds such a grudge against him and Emily determined to fight her growing attraction to him. But danger and desire have a way of thwarting the best-laid plans…

This story has an interesting premise, and it does stand out as being different from your average Regency romance, but I found the execution a little disappointing. After a compelling beginning and an intense start to the adventure, the story grew repetitive. Colin and Emily run, they argue, they’re attracted to each other, they’re found, they escape, and repeat. Over and over again. I liked both characters, and they had interesting backgrounds, but they were both so stubborn, and they held on to their grudges and secrets for too long. However, when they finally did give in to their attraction, I found those scenes to be some of the sweetest, sexiest, and most romantic I’ve read in quite some time. And the descriptions of the Scottish countryside they are running through are thoroughly transporting. But the mystery of Emily’s sister is not resolved; in fact, it seems to be a setup for the next book in the series, so not getting a payoff there was rather disappointing. I found the resolution of the case of mistaken identity to be very predictable, as was the behavior of both Colin and Emily when Lady Justice’s identity was finally revealed. But I give Colin big props for calling Emily out on her hypocrisy in passing judgment on everyone else while she hides in anonymity, causing her to do some real soul searching and achieve true character growth; and his actions at the end are swoon-worthy.

So as you can see, I have mixed feelings about this book. If you’ve read the previous books, of course you have to read this one, and knowing more than I did about the backdrop, you may get more enjoyment out of it than I did. It’s well written, and I was able to follow along well enough, but what started out as exciting and unique slowly grew tedious and predictable. But The Earl is saved by a good ending, and I was intrigued enough by the members of the Falcon Club to go back and add the other books to my reading list.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Conquered Heart by Kara Griffin

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In protecting the King of Scotland, Graeme Cameron will do whatever it takes to ensure Robert the Bruce’s safety. He and his comrades become the victim of circumstance and are now exiled. As they hide, they realize others are worse off than they and hire themselves out as mercenaries.

Kerrigan Campbell is desperate to find her laird and protector’s son. Then she hears of the legendary king’s guard and seeks them out. She runs across their leader in the midst of a battle, but he’s not what she expects. When she and Graeme find an abandoned bairn, he bids her to help him locate its mother and in return he’ll recapture her laird’s son.

Graeme has many a challenge before him – how to keep he and his friends from being executed for doing their duty, aiding the sweet lass in recovering her charge, finding the bairn’s mother, helping their king defeat England’s army, and gaining a pardon for their involvement in the king’s misdoings. There’s one challenge that thwarts him and that’s Kerrigan. She’s conquered his heart and more…

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EXCERPT

How handsome Graeme looked holding the bairn in such a protective way. In her mind’s eye, he looked akin to a husband that cradled his child. Such longing dismayed her, knowing she would in all likelihood never have a husband or children. At least not during these uncertain times.

Kerrigan sighed and turned back to peer at her friends. “Shhh, they’re asleep.”

“I am not sleeping and heard you enter. You dare bring others here? You promised …”

The bairn made his presence known and bawled loud enough to alert any passersby of their location. Kerrigan was about to take the babe from him when Philippa ran forward and took the bairn into her arms.

Everyone spoke at once, and with the babe’s wails, his shouts, Finley’s grumbles, and Annag’s shrieks, the cave’s roof would surely fall upon them. Kerrigan held up her hand for silence, but no one paid her any heed.

Graeme grabbed her wrist and pulled her outside. He sauntered until they were a good distance from the entrance. When he stopped, running more like, she was out of breath. She waited for him to begin his tirade, certain he was about to yell at her. There had to be a way to soothe his hostility, and she did the only thing that came to mind … What she usually did when she angered Laird Moray.

“My lord,” she said, and set a hand on his bicep. She gentled her hand and gave her most sorrowful expression, but she couldn’t help thinking how strong he was. His muscle bulged beneath her fingers. “I can explain. Will you not give me a moment?”

He gripped her upper arms and brought her toward him. Kerrigan thought he was going to harm her, perhaps shake or thrash her, but as her body collided with his, his lips pressed hers. He kissed her. Kissed her well and good.

Glory be.

She’d never been kissed as ardently before, and even as she thought that, his manly lips moved over hers and caused her to open her mouth. The coolness of his tongue glided over hers and caused her to groan at the sensuality of it. Kerrigan held tightly to his arms, confident she’d fall when he released her.

It ended too soon for her liking and he pulled his mouth away. Yet he didn’t release her. She held still and wished for a few more moments of being held by him. His hard body pressed against her, and he didn’t seem to want to let her go.

“I didn’t think you would return.” His words, whispered against her lips, caused a tremble through her body.

“I promised I would. Is this the cause of such a welcome?” Kerrigan’s heart sank when he released her and he turned abruptly. He motioned to the trees, and his comrades jumped down and made obtrusive calls.

“Ah, I enjoyed the performance, Graeme,” Liam said.

“You make a handsome couple,” Heath said.

Brodin shoved Graeme’s shoulder. “I thought ye said no one would know of our location. I told ye, you shouldn’t trust her. All lassies are the same, aye, deceitful.” He wasn’t as jovial as his comrades.

She stepped back and was about to walk way, but Graeme sidled next to her and took her hand. He gazed at her, then back to his comrades.

“I do trust her.”

Brodin bellowed with a harsh laugh. “You only say that because ye like kissing her.”

“I’d say more than like,” Liam said, with a wide grin. “Besotted. Aye, completely and rightly so.”

“I say that because it is the truth. I’m sure there is a goodly reason why she would bring others. Explain, Kerrigan, why you risked our wrath by bringing those people here.” Graeme began with a mollified voice, but by the time he finished, his words hardened.

He folded his arms over his chest and frowned.

She took a moment to gaze at them, standing around her in similar positions. They towered around her akin to tall unbent pines, making her feel as small and defenseless as a field mouse. Somehow she regained her composure and frowned back.

“I had to bring them. Finley, the old man, was Laird Moray’s trusted manservant. He risked his own safety to help me when Moray died. The old lady is his wife. I could not leave them in the village what with the English king’s army threat.” She took a step toward Graeme and pointed at his chest. “You,” she said, and jabbed Graeme with her pointy finger, “told me to find a means to take care of the bairn. The woman is a wet-nurse. How else are we to feed the babe? You can trust Finley and Annag. They shan’t tell anyone of the cave. I doubt they even know where they are. Have no worry of that.” By the time she finished, her breath hitched.

“Damn me, the lass is downright ornery when she gets her arse in a hitch,” Liam said.

“Aye, we’ll leave ye to deal with her, Graeme,” Heath said, and motioned to the others to follow.

Brodin gave a dark look to her as he passed.

She stood next to Graeme, afraid to look at his face. So she looked at her feet and barely saw them as night pitched the sky. It was dark this night with scarcely a sliver of moon to show any light and as black as their mood.

“I shouldn’t have done that.”

She chanced to look at his face. “Aye, next time you wish to know something, don’t yell at me. All you need to do is ask.”

He shook his head. “Nay, I meant kiss you in front of the others.” Graeme turned and moved the branches aside and stepped inside the cave.

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ENTER TO WIN AN eCOPY OF CONQUERED HEART. THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

kara-griffinKara Griffin is the author of the highly acclaimed Pith Trilogy and The Gunn Guardsman series. Both series has received tremendous praise from reviewers and readers. She has been writing for over 17 years, publishing over 15 novels, and has a true passion for writing historical stories filled with love, friendship, and honor.

She’s been married for over 27 years and has raised 3 daughters, who are on their own paths to love. Her first grandchild arrived early this summer, a wee hero who is the joy of her life. Family is extremely important to her.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01JUXNSKQ

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31433700-conquered-heart

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorKaraGriffin/

Author’s website: http://karagrif66.wixsite.com/authorkaragriffin

Hero in the Highlands (No Ordinary Hero #1) by Suzanne Enoch

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WILD AT HEART

Scotland, 1812: He’s ferocious and rugged to the bone, an English soldier more at home on the battlefield than in any Society drawing room. And when Major Gabriel Forrester learns that he’s inherited the massive Scottish Highlands title and estate of a distant relation, the last thing he wants to do is give up the intensity of the battlefield for the too-soft indulgences of noble life. But Gabriel Forrester does not shirk his responsibilities, and when he meets striking, raven-eyed lass Fiona Blackstock, his new circumstances abruptly become more intriguing.

Like any good Highlander, Fiona despises the English—and the new Duke of Lattimer is no exception. Firstly, he is far too attractive for Fiona’s peace of mind. Secondly, his right to “her” castle is a travesty, since it’s been clan Maxwell property for ages. As the two enter a heated battle of wills, an unexpected passion blazes into a love as fierce as the Highlands themselves. Is Fiona strong enough to resist her enemy’s advances—or is Gabriel actually her hero in disguise?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, October 4, 2016

Time and Setting: Scotland, 1812
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Suzanne Enoch, an established, prolific, and accomplished historical romance author, revisits Scottish heroes in her newest series, No Ordinary Hero. Indeed, Major Gabriel Forrester does not fit the usual mold of historical romance heroes; though he has just become a duke and inherited great wealth and land, he is first and foremost a soldier. He has no airs or sense of self-entitlement and, when he meets Fiona Blackstock, he’s attracted to a woman who is every bit as bold and brave as he is. She has spirit and fire and she dares to challenge him. For his part, his wealth and his heart can help Fiona (a woman who has shouldered many burdens but is tired) while also finding a home for himself. As a soldier, he has traveled the world and it has never occurred to him to set down roots.

As in several historical romances I’ve read recently, there’s a strong mystery element running through the story as malevolent events threaten to destroy the livelihood of the castle and its many indigent and dependent villagers. Over the years, someone has been stealing sheep at an alarming rate and the troubles escalate when Gabriel appears. Being a superstitious people, the clan calls it a curse but Gabriel, an Englishman, is determined to uncover the truth.

The denouement in the novel is a little anticlimactic – I expected an all out blowout after all the strange incidents – but I really like how Ms. Enoch depicts both Fiona and Gabriel challenging the villain, instead of the classic hero saving the heroine schtick. It’s a refreshing and unexpected twist.

For Fiona and Gabriel, it’s lust at first sight. They bait and challenge each other at every turn but they also share an instant and intense sexual attraction. She’s wary of a “Sassenach” duke coming in to save the day, but she also can’t deny or resist his good looks and charm – and, eventually, his kind heart. Gabriel grows on her like grass, as she observes him caring for the laborers and cotters and his determination to make the estate prosper. He earns her trust as well as her heart.

The romantic love between them grows slowly as each discovers attractive emotional qualities but, while they’re discovering them, they’re having sex every chance they can get. Fiona is no virgin and, oddly enough, for a man of the time, Gabriel doesn’t seem to mind. Indeed, she challenges him on that very fact by pointing out that he’s no virgin either. They understand each other but it’s definitely a mostly physical relationship.

Fiona has been running the estate since her brother ran off – there’s an unsolved mystery there -but also taking liberties by taking into account the livelihood of the villagers. She over-employs people at the castle and pretty much single-handedly runs things. Her only mistake is that Gabriel outsmarts her by actually coming to Scotland to take matters into his own hands after she ignored his lawyers’ many letters. In this way, their romantic love grows out of a shared desire for partnership in the success of the Scottish estate and the well-being of its residents.

Every day Scottish village life is colorfully depicted with runaway cows, a village picnic, and the beautiful descriptions of the landscape of the Scottish Highlands. The reader experiences it much as newcomer and war hero Gabriel does.

Obviously, as it’s set in Scotland, this book has a lot of Scottish dialect which can sometimes be a burden to read. But I know many readers enjoy stories set in Scotland so this may not be an issue. Ms. Enoch writes very well, her pacing is steady, and her characters engaging and human.

If you love Scottish historical romance and independent and strong-willed heroines, you will enjoy this book.

The Tinker’s Daughter by Stuart S. Laing

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Edinburgh, June 1746

In the summer of 1746, a caravan of wandering Gypsies arrive in Edinburgh bringing with them Libby Oliver, a mysterious young woman with a troubled history. Caught in a struggle between a dangerous figure from her past, and forced to do the evil bidding of a man she had thought she could trust, she is desperate to escape from all those who wish to control her for their own nefarious ends.

When the chance for love, happiness and a future of her own choosing presents itself, will she have the courage to seize the moment, or will she remain as no more than the beautiful prize in a struggle between those she has come to despise?

Following a brutal murder in a dank courtyard, the finger of suspicion is pointed firmly in her direction. Desperate to escape injustice, she turns to the one man who she believes can help her: Robert Young of Newbiggin.

Unfortunately he is bedridden with illness, while a plot involving shadowy figures from within the ranks of Edinburgh’s council and powerful guilds swirls in the background.

It will fall to his wife, Euphemia, to search for the truth on the filth choked streets of old Edinburgh, see that the guilty are brought to justice, and allow Libby to find the happiness so long denied her.

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Publisher and Release Date: Stuart S. Laing, June 2016

Time and Setting: Edinburgh, June 1746
Genre: Historical Mystery with romantic elements
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

Set in post-Culloden Edinburgh, The Tinker’s Daughter opens with a darkly sinister, clandestine meeting in the early hours of the morning. A group of sober, unnamed men who are highly respected members of the city’s Guild of Hammermen, has gathered to discuss an incident they were all involved in thirty years previously when they were apprentices and which has now come back to haunt them. There are various threads of mystery and intrigue running throughout the story and most, in one way or another lead to Libby Oliver and the menacing figure of her adopted father, Balen Oliver, leader of a band of gypsies. Libby is a mysterious, beautiful young woman with an exceptional talent for playing the fiddle; the combination of her fear, musical talents and extraordinary beauty is exploited by Balen, who puts her to work in the streets and taverns around the old town of Edinburgh and its castle. The people of the granite city are still recovering from the devastating effects of the battle of Culloden one month previously and Libby’s musical ability is a light relief and much appreciated by the people of Edinburgh who are anxious to forget their woes. It is on one such appearance that Libby makes the acquaintance of Alice Galbraith who is attracted by her mesmerising music, beauty and person-ability; she stands to listen and watch with Euphemia Young, the youthful wife of Robert Young.

Robert is a kind of private detective whose services are much in demand when the more respectable citizens of Edinburgh don’t really want the Town Guard or other law enforcement involved. Unfortunately when he is approached by one such ‘respectable’ citizen for help, Robert is sick – smitten with a gastric/lung complaint, which renders him so weak and unwell that he is unable to leave his bed. Euphemia is more than capable of standing in for her husband, and with the help of Shug Nicolls, a local tough-guy, she relishes the opportunity to do some investigating of her own.

Alice Galbraith works in an exclusive club, which caters mainly for men, although a few women number among its clients. Alice’s preference is for women, but if she is to make a living, she must cater for the men, too, no matter how distasteful she finds it. This is an interesting departure for this author and I liked that he tackled this shadowy world. Alice and Libby are immediately attracted to each other in a more than friendly manner, but the romance between them lacks something when compared to the strong sense of love and affection that exists between Robert and Euphemia, which is funny and sweet, with the kind of light hearted banter between a fairly newly married young couple that is touching and believable.

Characterisation is Stuart Laing’s strong point, especially when it comes to the working class males of Edinburgh, such as Shug Nicolls and Sgt Angus Maclan of the Town Guard. These men are so real and so very amusing, imbued with an earthiness, quick wit and humour, and I found myself chuckling along with their witty repartée.

The Tinker’s Daughter is the tenth in the A Robert Young of Newbiggin Mystery series, and although the books are all related with many of the characters appearing in all ten books, it can be read as a stand-alone. There is a glossary of Scots words/dialect at the beginning of the book and to anyone not familiar with the vernacular it might be necessary to refer to it from time to time, as the story is rich in Scottish slang. There is an element of romance in The Tinker’s Daughter but it is mild and definitely secondary to the mystery which has an interesting twist; one that I did not see coming. Stuart Laing takes us on a guided tour of the filthy alleyways and streets of working class Edinburgh with his graphic descriptions; and his research, scholarship and love for his city and its people shows in every word.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Highland Deception (Highland Pride #1) by Lori Ann Bailey

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Scotland, August 1642

Maggie and Lachlan must fight their growing attraction, battling suspicion and intrigue as religious and political turmoil threaten to tear their clans apart.

He has sworn he will never marry.

Lachlan Cameron is honor bound to see a wounded lass to safety, although he has well learned women are deceivers, and this lovely maid harbors a wealth of secrets. But Maggie’s free spirit and charms enthrall him while he works to discover if she is innocent . . . or a spy scheming with his enemies to destroy his clan.

She has sworn she will never fall in love.

Maggie Murray fled her home to avoid a political marriage to an abusive man. Salvation comes when the Cameron laird, unaware of her identity, protects her as she escapes. His kindness slowly warms her, and she’s tempted to confess her real name. But his strong sense of honor would force him to return her to her father . . . and torment at the hands of her scorned betrothed.

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EXCERPT

It was a dark night, but the moon and stars played a game of peekaboo through the clouds and teased him with their reflections in her sapphire eyes. Up close, Lachlan could see a pink flush on her cheeks. He wanted to stay angry, but as he studied her bewildered gaze and took in how her fingers trembled in his, he lost his resolve.

“What was that with Brodie?” His jaw ticked.

Maggie pursed her lips and didn’t reply right away. Now he wished he had taken her somewhere better lit—he could usually tell if she was lying, but in this light, could he trust his senses? Thankfully, the clouds rolled away and he had a clear view into her eyes, her soul. She blinked. “We were dancing. Ye were off with Arabella.”

She had the audacity to roll her eyes and tug her hand free from his. Was that jealousy in her bitter reply? “Why do ye even care?” she finally bit out, then turned back toward the keep.

Catching her wrist, he twirled her to face him and said tersely, “Ye are mine. Ye willnae let another touch ye.”

“I belong to no one. I amnae wed,” she retorted as she pulled out of his grasp and crossed her arms. She stamped her foot. It was strangely amusing until the words registered.

Aye, her view had merit, but Lachlan wouldn’t accept it. “Ye are on my land.” It was weak, but she couldn’t argue with it.
“I will leave if ye wish,” she countered as her eyes narrowed into slits and her lips tightened.

How could she consider leaving him after last night? Could he make her stay? “Nae, ye willnae.”

“Why? Ye have Arabella.” Her lip quavered.

He saw it for certain now—she was jealous. His chest swelled, and a primal pride eclipsed his anger. He had left the hall with Arabella to tell the woman to leave him be, and she had gotten the wrong impression. His heart leaped. Maggie was jealous, just as he had been about her, and he couldn’t help when one side of his mouth curved up in satisfaction.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

lori ann baileyLori Ann Bailey has a romantic soul and believes the best in everyone. Sappy commercials and proud mommy moments make her cry. She sobs uncontrollably and feels emotionally drained when reading sad books, so she started reading romance for the Happily Ever Afters. She was hooked. Then, the characters and scenes that ran around in her head as she attempted to sleep at night begged to be let out. Looking back now, her favorite class in high school was the one where a professor pulled a desk to the center of the room and told her to write two paragraphs about it and the college English class taught by a red-headed Birkenstock wearing girl, not much older than she, who introduced her to Jack Kerouac. After working in business and years as a stay-at-home mom she has found something in addition to her family to be passionate about, her books. She lives in Northern Virginia with her real life hero, four kids that keep her on her toes, two dogs determined to destroy her house and two cats secretly plotting the demise of those dogs.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/labaileyauthor
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Rebel of Ross by Mary Lancaster

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Scotland, 1156

Malcolm MacHeth, one time Earl of Ross, languishes a prisoner in Roxburgh Castle while his sons raise rebellion in his name. Optimistically, the King of Scots promises the earldom of Ross to landless Norman knight, Sir William de Lanson, if he can somehow defeat the infamous MacHeths.

It wasn’t quite how William’s disgraced wife Christian dreamed of coming home. Capture by the strange and ferocious Adam MacHeth was hardly part of her plan either, although she and William quickly become pawns in his.

Adam, warrior and seer, fights for his father’s freedom and for his family’s right to claim the kingdom of the Scots. Plagued by waking dreams which threaten his sanity and his life, he’s learned to use his prophecies to further his family’s goals. But when he abducts his enemy’s lady, his dreams and his desires are suddenly more personal.

Surrounded by intrigue, ambition and betrayal, Christian must choose between loyalty and love in order to keep a fragile peace for her people and for the man she loves beyond all reason.

Publisher and Release Date: Self-Published, August 2016
Time and Setting:Scotland, 1156
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level:1.5
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Jenny Q

Traveling to Tirebeck, the holding her husband has just been awarded by the King of Scots, Christian de Lanson is looking forward to returning to the home she hasn’t seen since she was three years old. She hopes her Scottish ancestry and ties to the land will aid her husband’s task in bringing rebellion under control while giving her a renewed sense of purpose in a loveless marriage. But those hopes are quickly tested when she is abducted by one of the very men her husband is tasked with killing, Adam MacHeth, looking every inch the berserker and madman he is rumored to be. Determined not to be cowed, she stands her ground with Adam, who is surprisingly considerate and kind, though it seems even a madman reacts with the same revulsion upon seeing the half mask she wears to hide the disfigurement beneath it. When she is traded back to her husband in exchange for MacHeth’s brother, she is relieved to have seen the last of him even if she can’t stop thinking about him. But of course, she hasn’t really seen the last of him . . .

Adam MacHeth has one goal: to free the imprisoned father he hasn’t seen since he was a child and help him retake his earldom and the Scottish throne. The Norman knight who has taken up residence in Ross is an inconvenience, but his wife is something much more. Her ancestry and rapport with the Scottish residents of Tirebeck could be the key to uniting Ross, but it’s her strength and beauty and her intrusion into his visions of the future that both excite and disconcert him. As alliances shift and Adam puts his plans for Ross in motion, circumstances bring him and Christian together time and time again. As his feelings for her grow, Adam’s desire for his own future threatens the destiny he’s worked so hard to bring about for his family and their legacy. When betrayal brings tensions in Scotland to the breaking point, Adam and Christian both will have to determine where their loyalties lie and what they are willing to risk and endure for love and a fleeting chance at happiness.

I was instantly intrigued by the description of Rebel of Ross. I’m always looking for something different in historical romance, and this time period definitely fits that bill. I loved the inclusion of the history of the period, and the description and attention paid to historical detail. This story takes place at a very contentious time in Scottish history as rival dynasties compete for the right to rule while in England, Henry II is trying to wrestle his kingdom into order after years of civil war. The MacHeths and many other characters in the story were real, and the author has done a good job of wading through some murky history and conflicting scholarly opinions to create a plausible cast of players and scenarios. The characters of Christian and Adam are well-developed, and the chemistry between them is intense. Adam’s family play strong supporting roles, and the intrigue and violence of this era in history makes for exciting, adventurous reading. I couldn’t put it down, burning through the pages to see who would be left standing and if a happily ever after would even be possible.

The only real problem I had with this book is the inclusion of so many points of view. The story is told through the eyes of eleven characters, if I counted correctly. I found myself getting frustrated that I had to view Adam through the eyes of others rather than via his own point of view for the first half of the story. I really wanted to be in his head and get to know him on a more personal level. We do eventually start getting scenes from Adam’s point of view, and they increase in frequency toward the end. I understand the author’s desire to paint a more complete picture of the politics of the time and what was going on in different locations, but I began to grow annoyed as new characters were continually introduced with their own point of view throughout the book when I just wanted to get back to what was happening with Christian and Adam. Admittedly, I am a stickler for tight, focused point of view structures, so this may not pose a problem for other readers. And the fact that I’m still giving this four stars despite my issues with PoV tells you how good the rest of it is!

Rebel of Ross is perfect for readers who enjoy scarred and complex characters, adventure and intrigue, and a hearty dose of history in their romance. I am very much looking forward to reading the sequel!

Mad for the Plaid (Oxenburg Princes #3) by Karen Hawkins

mad for the plaid

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Nikolai Romanovin, a royal prince of Oxenburg, has travelled to the deepest wilds of Scotland to rescue his grandmother the Grand Duchess, who was abducted while visiting an old friend in the Highlands. Wanting to avoid an international incident, Nik plans to quietly slip into enemy territory disguised as a groom at Castle Cromartie. But his plans go awry when he falls under the cool gray gaze of the laird’s daughter.

Pragmatic and clever, Ailsa Mackenzie has been left in charge of the family estate and her unruly grandmother in her father’s absence. Something about the new groom catches her eyes, and makes her think he’s not who he pretends to be—and even more shockingly, stirs her senses. Is it his obviously educated manners? His arrogant, non-servant-like presence? It’s certainly not his towering, powerful form, or slumberous, inviting green eyes!

After confronting the imposter and learning the truth, Ailsa agrees to help Nik—for she, too, understands difficult relatives and would do anything for family. Soon their secret partnership leads to growing respect, searing kisses, and then something far more perilous. And when their quest turns dangerous, Ailsa and Nik must discover this unknown enemy while facing the dangerous demands of their own unruly hearts.

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Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Books, September 2016

Time and Setting: 1824, Scottish Highlands
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

The premise of The Oxenburg Princes series always struck me as a bit unusual. Eastern European princes finding love with women from the Scottish Highlands is a strange mix of cultures and character types but somehow Karen Hawkins makes it all work. The final book, Mad for the Plaid, uses this same formula to the greatest effect by focusing on the dangerous political aspects of a prince’s life and just how strong a true love must be to overcome those challenges.

Lady Ailsa Mackenzie has been playing hostess to the Grand Duchess of Oxenburg for several weeks, dealing with her direct ways and the challenging requests for her comfort. In order to secure all the items the duchess claims she needs during her visit Ailsa, has been corresponding with the Crown Prince of Oxenburg, Nikolai Romanovin. Unimpressed by the prince’s reputation Alisa writes to him with only the barest of formalities and hopes with each letter it will be the last time they have to talk with each other. Her wish is ignored when the duchess goes missing from Castle Leod and Ailsa has to report to the prince that she is now searching for his missing grandmother.

Prince Nikolai is in Scotland to facilitate a peace treaty between his country and the Tsar of Russia while meeting on neutral ground. There is no time in his schedule to deal with the problem of his missing grandmother; however his experience with the political machinations of both royal courts makes him believe that her disappearance might be more than just a simple kidnapping. Hoping to keep Oxenburg business private from the Russians, Nik decides to travel to Castle Leod and rescue the duchess, but he will travel incognito. Nik is dreading his meeting with Lady Ailsa as he’s pictured a shrill and greying old spinster as the woman to whom he’s been writing. He is surprised when the lady is in fact a young and pretty woman who is unimpressed by his royal pedigree.

The mission deep into the Highlands to find the duchess puts Nik and Ailsa in close quarters and away from the trappings that have cocooned them for years. Alisa has managed her father’s estate and created a tentative respect between her and her advisors, yet a mission of this importance leads to self-doubts about how much they really trust her judgement. Nik’s position as a prince has always given him instant respect from those under his command but Alisa and her men don’t fall in line with that way of thinking. He has to gain their trust by showing them the man that he is beneath the title but it leaves him vulnerable for the first time in his life. Along the way Ailsa and Nik find themselves growing closer to each other, discovering little things that change their perceptions and bring out emotions neither one expected.

Mad for the Plaid is a very light and airy romance that keeps itself mostly grounded by having Nik constantly thinking about his position as the prince of Oxenburg and what that means to him. He is torn by his feelings for Ailsa because his life doesn’t belong to him alone and if she were to become his wife all of the court intrigues could change her. He stubbornly holds himself at arm’s length from Alisa to keep her from breaking down the walls he’s put up to guard himself from those who would use him for their personal gain. Fortunately Ailsa is smart enough to call him on his B.S. and openly challenges Nik’s jaded approach to living.

Ailsa is a worthy partner for a prince as she understands the sacrifices that come with leadership. She has ignored thoughts of her own future in order to secure the lands and fortunes of people that she oversees. When the duchess is kidnapped, Ailsa immediately takes control of the search efforts and feels that the responsibility of bringing the captives home safely rests on her shoulders. Over the course of their rescue mission she discovers another side of herself, one that wants more than respect from others but also to be cared for and cherished for being herself. Nik brings out the more passionate side of Ailsa and it’s up to her to convince him that he deserves that same cherished feeling.

I had my ups and downs with The Oxenburg Princes series but I enjoyed Nik and Ailsa’s road to romance. Mad for the Plaid is a cute story that closes the book on the princes but perhaps opens up more possibilities for love in Oxenburg – if the Grand Duchess has anything to say about it, that is.