This was the third book in the Victorian era Highlander Scots MacGregor trilogy and the one I was really waiting for- finally to know what was up with that oldest MacGregor sibling who was missing presumed dead, but everyone still hoped was alive. I am glad to report that Asher and his backstory did not disappoint. He was so worth waiting for. His heroine? Well, more about her later.
The story begins when Asher MacGregor, the returned prodigal, has reluctantly taken up his duties. His uncle has emotionally blackmailed him into meeting an acquaintance’s step-daughter along with the aunt playing chaperone at the wharf where he will take up escort duties. His responsibility is to take the young American girl in hand and squire her around London during the social Season for her to find a husband even as he is expected to find a wife. Asher will do his duty, but he doesn’t really want a wife or being looked over as a prize in London. He is still emotionally dealing with his past.
Hannah Cooper is a Boston heiress. After rejecting all her step-father’s sycophants and creating a stir in the last case that shocked so many back in Boston, she has been sent to London by way of Edinburgh to land herself a husband. Hannah has no intentions of taking a husband and plans to last until she’s twenty-six and can access her inheritance. She will stop at nothing to leave London unshackled and return to Boston even if she has to disgrace herself to do it. She can tell that she and her laudanum swilling aunt are a burden to Lord Balfour and that he has no more desire to escort them then Hannah wishes to be escorted. She is not the only one with coercing family expectations it seems.
Asher and the ladies begin a memorable journey south and the weather with a carriage accident along the way leaves Asher alone with Hannah. They spend a night out on the moor though it goes well under Asher’s capable survival skills, but this time alone must never become known to anyone or they will be socially ruined and expected to marry. The night alone changes something with both of them in a fundamental way even if circumstances have not changed and they both still plan to survive the London Season with singlehood intact.
In London, Hannah soon experiences so much that is different and Asher has the opportunity to experience it all through her eyes. They are tempted by an attraction to each other which leads to stolen kisses. Asher knows that he cannot fire off Hannah successfully on his own so he has sent for his brothers, sister and their families to come in support. Hannah gets to see and experience true family for the first time even though now it is obvious that Asher is still brooding and detached from them because of the secret burdens in his past which Hannah gets flickers of now and then. She has secrets too that Asher is slowly discovering- the reason she must return to Boston. As time marches on, Hannah grows more inflamed by Asher as he does her and she seduces him though not for the point of being compromised and forced to marry. It pains her to learn that noble and good Asher wants to marry her. He wants to help with her family troubles back in Boston. Though she loves him and would like nothing more, she must still say ‘no’ because he has his familial duty as Earl of Balfour and Laird of Clan MacGregor. Asher only has so long to figure out how to help Hannah and change her mind so she’ll stay.
Now to what I thought of this one. First of all, I would say roughly the first half of this book was absolutely absorbing when it came to plot that blended history and romance so well. It had a nice pace, and the characters and their developing romance was so good that I couldn’t put the book down. I was loving it when they journeyed and first got to London, the machinations of his uncle and her villainous step-father, the peek ins with the other MacGregors and just the rich and colorful descriptions behind the story. A Highlander Clan during the Victorian era, a man who was half-native American spending parts of childhood and parts of adulthood on the Canadian Frontier, an American woman from Boston experiencing the Old World for the first time was all described well.
Yes, I was totally into this story and the people, but then near the middle something happened. The pace slowed way down, the angst soared through the roof and it just started cycling through the same feelings, passionate activities and dialogue even if the scene changed. In the beginning, her need to avoid marriage and return home was fine by me. Hey! I wouldn’t want to get pushed into a loveless match and have to live far from everything and everyone I knew either. Then I was shocked when after it is obvious that she loves Asher and knows him, that she still plans to go on as before especially after I learned what she was really up against back home. Asher was working to get her to let him help her with her troubles even as he points out more than once that she can’t fix the problem she is worried about. She was stubbornly set on Boston (picture mule refusing to budge here). Stubborn, fixated, stubborn, blind and obtuse, stubborn! Did I mention she was stubborn?
Just in case I leave the impression that my issue is just that she is a strong minded gal, let me do a mild spoiler explanation here.
***Skip this section if you don’t want the mild spoilerish details***
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Asher points all this out not once, but twice to her when he offers to be the male she needs to get the job done. She nods knowing he is right and knowing that her plan is bunk. She’s breaking his heart (and her own as well though its hard to feel the pain can be equal if she’s still willing to chuck it all to run back alone to do- well nothing as I just got done explaining). All she can do is cry in his arms, beg for them to make love so she has at least that, and say she still needs to go. I just got so tired of it all. The ‘I love you and will always remember you forever’ stuff just got on my nerves because if it weren’t for her stubbornness, the solution was right there and their parting and pain unnecessary. Happily, after many pages of angst and ignorance, she does wake up and smell the Darjeeling. Poor Asher! His lady sure put him through the ringer.
That leads me to the best part of the book- Asher. Asher’s backstory and past experiences shaped him both on the inside and the outside. He is so many things and it was enjoyable watching each facet of Asher shine forth- the frontiersman, the doctor, the nobleman, the lover, the brother and the Laird of his clan. He’s a bit of an enigma at first though it is still easy to form a favorable opinion of him because of his dealings with Hannah. She is rather rude and self-absorbed at first and he just lets it all run off him like a champ. He respects her and is amused by her. He has to be around her and he wants to protect her even as he is oblivious that he is shaking off his past guilt and falling in love.
Asher and Hannah are no tame gentleman and a shrinking violet. Their passion is smoldering and they both go for it. They picked some interesting places too- kitchen prep table, train car platform, up in a highland meadow. It was a bit of a shock when Hannah was the one to come onto Asher first and then later I found it unrealistic when she goes from virgin to experienced lover faster than a ‘Vette on the quarter mile and I couldn’t get past that they went at it a few times and she doesn’t even give it any consideration that he might get her pregnant. But as I’ve already pointed out in my mild spoiler, she gets fixated and reason gets chucked out the window. I ended up shrugging over these things and just enjoyed two people in love being together. I really loved some of the smaller things like when he took her to get the rum buns and hot toddy and then when he snuck her out to go iceskating. Adorable and a nice balance to the hotter scenes. Their romance was well written and developed at a good pace.
Oh, on a side note, the crossover scene with the Windhams was a delightful surprise and the scenes with the family from previous books were warm and just the perfect amount without taking over the story. Asher was sublime and his romance with Hannah just a joy.
Okay, to wrap it all up, most of my feelings land on the positive side of things. The ending made up for a lot of what aggravated me earlier in the story. I was a total puddle of goo just from the twist leading into the big scene. This author can write a dramatic closing to a story with the best of them. She does it over and over so its a proven thing.
Those who might love Historic Highlander romances with decent historical accuracy, spicy and passionate though never easy romances, and interesting plots, should give these a try. And for fans of other Grace Burrowes’ books, this series is right up there too.
My thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.