Lady Annys MacQueen has no other choice. The deception that enabled her to keep her lands safe is on the verge of being revealed by a cruel kinsman. To shield her young son from the sword and her people from devastation, she must turn to the one man she could never forget…
He lives for duty and honor. So the only way Sir Harcourt Murray could repay the laird who saved his life was to agree to father a child with Sir MacQueen’s wife…Lady Annys.
Now the passion he still feels for the lovely strong-willed widow is as all-consuming and perilous as securing her lands. But to convince her that his love is forever real means confronting her most wrenching fears–and putting everything they treasure most at stake…
Harcourt looked at Annys and his heart actually skipped a beat. He would have laughed if he was not so filled with conflicting emotions. Such happenings were the stuff of bad poetry, the sort of thing he had always made jest of. Yet, there he stood, rooted to the spot, frantically thinking of what to say and how to hide the tangled mass of emotion that was nearly choking him. He nodded a greeting to her and watched her beautiful moss-green eyes narrow in a look that did not bode well for an amiable talk later. Talking was not what he was thinking about, however. He was recalling how soft that long blood-red hair of hers was, how warm her pale skin felt beneath his hands, and how sweet those full lips tasted. That was a memory he needed to smother and fast.
“Are matters as bad as young Ian indicated?” he asked Nicolas, and inwardly winced when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Annys cross her arms under her breasts.
“Aye,” Nicolas replied. “We can have that talk with her ladyship in attendance as soon as we get all of you sorted.”
Harcourt nodded and turned his attention to seeing to the matter. Once the horses were taken care of, their supplies unloaded and carted away, he knew the time had come to actually face Annys. He took a deep breath and started toward her where she still stood on the steps only to come to a halt when a small child rushed by him and ran up to pull at her skirts.
“Maman! Ye got us more soldiers.”
“I did, Benet. I thought it might help stop all the trouble we have been having.”
The moment the child turned to look at him, Harcourt clenched his fists at his side. The boy’s eyes were a match for his own. Bright amber eyes watched him closely and Harcourt fought against the urge to shout out his claim to this child. He had given up all rights. It had been the debt owed for his life. He could feel the eyes of his companions fixed upon him though and knew he would be facing a lot of questions.
It took every ounce of strength he had to start walking again. He stepped up until he was standing just below Annys and the boy. It was easy to read the fear in her eyes. Young Benet’s eye color was not an exact match with his and could be attributed to the tiny gold specks in her eyes or just a different shade of the brown David’s eyes had been. The boy’s hair was black but so had David’s been. As long as he did not say or do something to give the secret away, all would be fine. Yet, Harcourt knew it was going to be a long hard battle not to reach out and claim his son.
“M’lady,” he said and took her hand in his to brush a kiss over her knuckles.
That tiny soft hand trembled slightly in his grasp and his body reacted to the sign that she was not as indifferent to his presence as she appeared to be. Harcourt knew it would be unwise to try to begin an affair with her but he was not sure he was strong enough to resist if she gave him even the smallest hint that she would welcome his attention.
“Sir Harcourt,” she said and nodded as she almost yanked her hand out of his grasp. “Where is Ian?”
“He was injured in his travels. Nay badly, but I thought it best if he remained at Gormfeurach for a while. He is being given the best of care.”
“Thank you for that. I was most concerned when he did not return.” She turned slightly and took Benet by the hand. “Shall we go to the hall where you can quench your thirst and have some food while we talk?”
Annys fought to keep from racing into the keep, putting as much distance between her and Sir Harcourt as she could.
The touch of his lips on her hand had nearly undone her hard-won composure. It had been five years since she had felt his touch yet the moment his flesh met hers, even in the innocence of a proper greeting, her mind had gone back to those nights by the burn.
Guilt left a sour taste in her mouth. David was barely cold in his grave and she was allowing herself to weaken at the touch of another man’s hand. What had happened between her and Harcourt had been wrong, even if it had been condoned by David. She nearly laughed. Condoned? It had been meticulously arranged. David had been the sweetest, kindest man she had ever known but he had also been a man who would not hesitate to do whatever was needed to get what he wanted. He had wanted a son.
She glanced down at Benet who kept looking back at the men following them into the keep. Until she had seen Harcourt again, she had not allowed herself to even think on how much Benet looked like the man. All she could do was pray no one else noticed, especially since there had been the faintest similarities in coloring between David and Harcourt. She would also have to be very watchful for even the smallest possibility that she or Harcourt were giving the secret away in how they treated the boy.
“M’lady,” Joan whispered in her ear as they entered the hall and pulled away from the men who went to wash their hands, “it is not as clear to see as ye think it is.”
“I pray ye are right, Joan.”
“I am. I only see it because of what I ken and I have ne’er heard a whisper that would tell me anyone else here kens the truth or that those who may would e’er say a word. So, ye just be careful in what ye say and do and all will be weel.”
Annys wished she had the confidence in that that Joan had. The looks on the faces of the men who had come with Harcourt, looks the men were doing a pitiful job of hiding, told her that they noticed something already. She prayed Harcourt would have a stern word with them all.
Publisher and Release Date: Zebra, February 24, 2015
Time and setting: 15th Century Scotland
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 Stars
Review by Vikki
I have been a fan of Hannah Howell’s ever since I read the first book in the Murray series, so when the opportunity came up to review Highland Guard, I looked forward to reading it with great anticipation, because I could not wait to be re-united with the Murray clan. Sadly, though, that did not happen because this reads more as a stand-alone than a book in that amazing series. I was a bit disappointed, but I still enjoyed the book – just not quite as much as I have enjoyed Ms Howell’s other stories.
Sir Harcourt Murray comes to Lady Annys MacQueen’s side when he receives a message that she is experiencing great difficulties with one of her late husband’s cousins and believes her life and that of her son are in jeopardy.
Harcourt and Annys have a past. The set up for the story is expertly told in a series of short flashbacks without its being intrusive. Sir David MacQueen saves Harcourt’s life – and when Harcourt asks how he can repay him, Sir David explains that his need of an heir and asks Harcourt to impregnate his wife. Although this went against all his principles, Harcourt agreed. After all, he did owe Sir David his life, and his attraction to Annys was more than he could resist.
Once Annys was with child, he took his leave even though it was one of the hardest things he had ever done in his life. Out of respect for his agreement with Sir David, he felt that he had to leave without bidding the lady farewell.
When they are re-united five years later, Annys is widowed so there should be nothing standing in the way of their being together. But Lady Annys is wary of Sir Harcourt since he left without a word to her. She harbors deep anguish and resentment over this.
Sir Harcourt realizes that he his battle to win the lady’s affections will be an uphill one. While he tries to find and end the problems with her evil cousin, he spends a lot of time with Annys and also has the chance to get to know his son.
After some time, he breaks through her shields, but there are so many things standing in the way of them having a lasting relationship with each other. Lady Annys must stay at Glencullaich to guard her son’s inheritance, and Harcourt has his own lands to protect. Can Harcourt find a way to fulfill Annys’s obligations without compromising his responsibilities to his brother and the rest of his clan?
As always, I enjoyed Ms. Howell’s writing style and her ability to bring her characters to life. She has such an astounding grasp of the Scottish dialect that her dialogue rings true and helps to pull me in, putting me right there in the life of a castle keep during the time period. I would have liked a bit more information concerning the time-frame, but this did not stop me enjoying the book.
I loved Harcourt’s character from the very beginning, liked Annys a great deal and enjoyed their romance. Their little boy, Benet, stole the show – what an endearing little guy! But the plot did not quite ring true for me and was quite predictable. I easily figured out how the story would turn out well before the ending, which is very satisfying, but also very predictable.
I also wanted to hear about the amazing characters from the other twenty books, but none of them appeared in this story, which was disappointing. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this character-driven tale and look forward to reading other books by this incredibly talented author.
You can follow the blog tour HERE.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hannah D. Howell is a highly regarded and prolific romance writer. Since Amber Flame, her first historical romance, was released in February 1988, she has published 25 novels and short stories, with more on the way. Her writing has been repeatedly recognized for its excellence and has “made Waldenbooks Romance Bestseller list a time or two” as well as was nominated twice by Romantic Times for Best Medieval Romance (Promised Passion and Elfking’s Lady). She has also won Romantic Times’ Best British Isles Historical Romance for Beauty and the Beast; and, in 1991-92 she received Romantic Times’ Career Achievement Award for Historical Storyteller of the Year.
Hannah was born and raised in Massachusetts (the maternal side of her family has been there since the 1630’s). She has been married to her husband Stephen for 28 years, who she met in England while visiting relatives, and decided to import him. They have two sons Samuel, 27, and Keir, 24. She is addicted to crocheting, reads and plays piano, attempts to garden, and collects things like dolls, faerie and cat figurines, and music boxes. She also seems to collect cats, as she now has four of them, Clousseau, Banshee, Spooky, and Oliver Cromwell.