Rabbie Mackenzie is angry, remote, and verging on suicidal. As a highlander after Culloden, he harbors a lot of anger toward the English for the atrocities they perpetrated on the Scots. The worst thing they did to him personally weat Avaline Kent, his fiancee, is naive, emotional, and childish and must rely on her lady's maid in almost all decisions. But Rabbie will grudgingly marry her to save his clan and keep her father, who has bought a neighboring estate, from destroying the Mackenzies through trade. For her part, Avaline can't say boo to a mouse, deferring to her maid Bernadette, a woman of noble birth whose youthful elopement and forced annulment ruined her reputation and her future prospects. When Bernadette and Rabbie meet, they dislike to each other, Rabbie thinking Bernadette feels she is better than him and Bernadette thinking Rabbie is insufferably rude. They may loathe each other, but they both recognize the terrible mismatch between the hard and forbidding Rabbie and the cake headed, fearful Avaline.
As Bernadette comes to know the perpetually glowering Rabbie better, to understand that he is hardened by grief, to sympathize with his obvious pain, and to peel back these layers of him to find the man underneath, she finds herself attracted to him just as he finds himself attracted to this cheeky, honest, and confident Sassenach. Bernadette is burdened by a terrible past loss just as Rabbie is but it changed her in very different ways. Instead of shutting herself off emotionally from everyone around her and railing against the injustice, she has picked herself up and gone on with her life, albeit a constrained life unlike one she once imagined for herself. Even though she looks to the future with a more optimistic outlook than Rabbie, she is still carrying the enormous sorrow of her past and letting it dictate her future. Both characters have to learn to temper their grief and start living again. The secondary characters here are nicely drawn. Avaline is infuriating and ridiculously dependent and then surprisingly stubborn and short-sighted, throwing up road blocks every time Bernadette thinks she has extricated the mismatched pair from the unwanted engagement. Rabbie's family is thoughtful and caring and although some of them are introduced in earlier books, a reader doesn't have to have read the prior novels to follow along and enjoy this one. Historical romance buffs, especially those with and interest in Scotland, will enjoy this glimpse into a romance set in the aftermath of Culloden and the impact it had on the Highlanders.
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Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and Harlequin for sending me a copy of this book to review.