Shaken from sleep during the night and bundled off to the Highlands by a burly Scot, Riona is at first terrified, then livid. Hugh McCallum insists they were promised to each other as children to ensure peace between their clans. The stubborn laird refuses to believe he’s kidnapped the wrong Catriona Duff. Instead, he embarks on a campaign of slow-burning seduction . . .
At first, Hugh cares only what their marriage can do for his people. Now he’s starting to crave Riona for her own sake, but her true identity jeopardizes his clan’s contract. And unless she chooses to risk all to be his bride, he’ll lose the only thing he prizes more than the lands he’s fought so hard to save—the passionate marriage they could have together.
Publisher and Release Date: Avon (October 27, 2015)
Time and Setting: Scottish Highlands, 1727
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by Sara
Gayle Callen is an author who consistently creates light and enjoyable romantic stories. Her newest book, The Wrong Bride, continues that trend and instantly captures the reader’s attention with a kidnapping, a handsome Highlander and a woman who is definitely in the wrong place at the right time.
Catriona Duff should have known something strange was going on when her uncle had her sleep in her cousin’s bedroom. Later that night, she is awakened by a strange man holding her mouth shut and telling her she will be leaving with him. Unable to scream for help and confused by his claims that she is his betrothed, Riona is forced to go with the stranger into his blacked out carriage. As they travel into Scotland, Riona learns that her kidnapper is Hugh McCallum, the new laird of his clan who is bound by an agreement between his late father and the Earl of Aberfoyle to marry his daughter Lady Catriona Duff. With two women within the Duff family named Catriona, it is a case of mistaken identity facilitated by her uncle’s last minute change to her sleeping arrangements.
After Aberfoyle refuses to honor the betrothal, Hugh feels it’s his right to take his intended bride to fulfil the contract. To him, her claims that she’s not the correct Catriona are just more ploys by the Duff family to nullify the agreement and take the land which belongs to the McCallum people. After a ten-year absence from his ancestral lands, Hugh is eager to start his new life as Laird with his proper wife at his side to secure the peace between their clans. Once this Riona gets to know him and her new clan he hopes she will stop fighting her fate and become his wife.
Their arrival at Larig Castle is not welcomed as openly as Hugh had hoped, with his cousin and foster brother doing little to quell the whispers of old scandals surrounding Hugh and his family. Riona, knowing she has nowhere to escape to if she were to run, decides it’s better to keep quiet about Hugh’s mistake in public, but in private tries everything in her power to convince him of the truth. As Hugh works during the day to win over his people, at night he pursues his reluctant bride and finds that the woman he stole is somehow stealing his heart.
There is a sense that the author did her homework on some of the customs and rituals of the Highland Scots of the time. Something I’ve never seen before in a historical romance is the idea of Bundling, a practice different from a trial marriage or hand-fasting. Hugh and Riona spend time together in bed getting to know one another, but their intimacy is limited to a few touches and passionate kissing since her legs are tied together! I also learned a bit more about the hierarchies within a clan as well as the politics behind the naming of Lairds. There is resentment at Hugh’s return by the men who had stayed behind to protect the clan and their subtle challenge to his authority makes the situation for Hugh and Riona that much more difficult.
One problem I had with the story was Hugh’s pigheadedness when it came to his kidnapping of Riona. As I was reading there was a constant anticipation for the moment Hugh realizes his mistake and things all start to fall apart. That Ms. Callen chose to keep that moment until almost the final chapters of the story bothered me more than a normal misunderstanding might. The “truth” shadowed every moment in the story and I grew frustrated at Hugh’s failure to listen when Riona is constantly telling him who she really is. As their affection for one another keeps growing and they start trusting one another Hugh never re-examines their conversations or Riona’s actions. He just soldiers onward believing that the ends justified the means.
Fortunately Riona’s character more than makes up for Hugh’s caveman-like approach to their relationship. Knowing that she is ruined, she could have had a similar attitude and damned the consequences by acting on any impulse she had. Instead Riona takes the higher ground and tries desperately to weigh the truth of the situation against her growing love for Hugh, his family and the clan. She is constantly looking for ways to convince Hugh of her identity but never discredits him or creates a situation where he would lose the respect of his people. Riona grows the most over the course of the story and it was her happy ending I was vested in, not so much that of her stubborn partner.
Feeling a bit like a throwback to the romance books of another decade, The Wrong Bride is diverting and serves as a good introduction for a new series. With a cliffhanger ending for two secondary characters, I’ll be looking out for book two in the Spring.