Title: The Warrior (Return of the Highlanders Series #3)
Author: Margaret Mallory
Availability: Mass Market Paperback and e-book (Grand Central Publishing, Forever)
“A lass should know how to protect herself,” he said. “Your training in this regard has been sorely lacking, so I’m going to teach ye how to kill someone with a dirk.”
“That’s the sweetest thing a man has ever said to me,” Moira said in a dead-serious voice.
This was my first Margaret Mallory book, but certainly not my last. In fact, I was barely finished with the prologue when I rushed off to add the first two books in the Return of the Highlanders series to my e-reader (The Guardian and The Sinner; book #4, The Chieftain is due for release February 26, 2013. See Margaret Mallory’s website for more information).
As the story opens, nineteen year old Duncan MacDonald is madly in love with Moira, as she is with him. Problem is, seventeen year old Moira is the only daughter of the MacDonald chieftain (and the little sister of Duncan’s best friend Connor to boot). Duncan is the son of a servant nursemaid who doesn’t know his father’s identity. Duncan knows his affair with Moira must end, as her father would never allow a baseborn bastard warrior to marry his beloved (and spoiled) daughter. Duncan is pragmatic, yet willing to grab happiness while it was within his reach, no matter how fleeting. Moira unrealistically believes her father will surely let her have her way – and if not, they can simply run away together. Duncan does not believe Moira could survive life cast out of the clan and he knows her father would never relent.
[Note: My immediate affinity for Duncan may be influenced by my undying affection for red-headed heroes. I’d guess 1 in 3 romance novels have ginger haired heroines. Where are their brothers, cousins, etc? Why are there so few red-headed hunks being written about? Is it because no one can compete with Jamie Fraser of Outlander fame? Personally I blame Carrot Top.]
Unfortunately for the young lovers, Duncan is right. Returning from a tryst with Moira, Duncan is confronted my her very angry father and oldest brother (and their claymores!). The chieftain commands Duncan to leave immediately for France to train and fight, along with his best friends Connor, Alex and Ian.
Fast forward seven years and Connor, the new MacDonald chieftain, sends Duncan on a mission to determine the loyalty of an ally – who just happens to be Moira’s husband. All these years Duncan has pined for Moira and believes she made a love match soon after his departure. Duncan imagines her living a life of luxury and happiness with a man she loves and their children.
Unfortunately for Moira, this time Duncan is wrong. Within weeks of Duncan’s departure, Moira’s father arranged a marriage for her to the son of an Irish chieftain to cement an alliance and told her Duncan chose to leave. Moira’s husband Sean proves himself to be a violent disgusting excuse for a human being. The scenes of abuse, both emotional and physical, were jarringly realistic. My heart ached for Moira and her son.
Once Duncan arrives on the scene in Ireland, the action really begins. In between murder, daring escapes, storms at sea and wolf attacks, Duncan and Moira start to reconnect. After years suffering the unwanted attentions of her brutish husband, Moira has a difficult time giving into her physical yearning for Duncan. His patience and tender administrations provide a slow, sensual reawakening for Moira – and burn up the pages. Even after sharing her body with Duncan again, Moira holds back her heart and trust. Her resentment at Duncan’s perceived ‘desertion’ of her, which led to her life of hell with Sean, has too strong a hold on her. I felt sympathy for Moira, obviously, but even as she learned the facts surrounding Duncan’s departure and he proved his eternal love for her, she still remained unreasonably angry (“[I]t changed nothing if Duncan had been commanded to leave.” Huh?).
It was refreshing to read about a man who knows his feelings and shares them openly and honestly. I was a little worried there would be a misunderstanding when Moira came upon Duncan’s ex-lover being given the boot but instead the encounter brought the couple closer together.
“You are the only woman who ever mattered to me. Rhona knows it. Everyone does.”
And STILL this wasn’t enough for Moira! “Despite his passionate lovemaking and kind gestures, a part of her still did not believe he deserved to know [her secret].” ARGH! What more could the man do? I actually cheered out loud when her brother called her out for her behavior. Well, Duncan did find out her secret, and man was he angry (rightfully so!) – but of course he forgave her. Guess that big tough Highlander is just a sucker for love.
Ms. Mallory excels at giving her characters depth, including some wonderful secondary characters. I really loved Duncan’s dichotomy between the battle-hardened giant of a man and the gentle, tender lover and musician.
Eventually Moira come to her senses (YES!) and realizes that just because Duncan wanted to protect her and provide for her doesn’t mean he thinks her incapable or spoiled. I finally stopped wanting to shake some sense into her (I know these are fictional characters, that just proves what a masterful job Ms. Mallory did with his novel!). I was pleased the growth and understanding that developed in Moira’s character, and in Duncan’s for finally realizing he is worthy of Moira and her love. *sigh*
Along the way to Duncan and Moira’s long-waited and well-deserved HEA, there is more than enough action to satisfy any adrenaline junkie. The action sequences were as compelling as the tender quiet moments. I loved this book – even though I wasn’t always in love with the heroine. 😉
4.5/5 bottles of polish
Edge of your seat action with excellent characterization, tender lovemaking, all-consuming passion – and a delicious red-headed Scots warrior. What’s not to love?
*I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*