Her Highland Rogue
If you’re a child of the ‘80’s like I am, Loveswept’s line of titles likely served as your first introduction to the romance world. Their prolific clinch covers once lined supermarket shelves across America, rivaling only Harlequin for conspicuousness. “Her Highland Rogue” marks the series’ continued resurrection as a new media line, introducing a fresh generation of romance fans to the passionate historicals for which the brand is known.
Errol MacRae, an accomplished warrior and eldest son of his clan, has brought home many war-related honors to his sire, but has also disappointed him because of his wenching and drinking. When one of his men, Broc, becomes repellently aggressive in his pursuit of the servant Aileana and causes her to flee, the Laird is furious. The girl has been a favorite of his since she was a foundling, and he urges Errol to find her and bring her back. Errol, feeling guilty, avoids displeasing his father further by traveling to the land of Kintail to find Aileana, his long-ago childhood playmate.
Aileana, meanwhile, storms out of the MacRae stronghold right into the shelter of Sgurr, a woman who has lived in a cave in the hills overlooking the war-torn lands of Kintail for over eighteen years. Sgurr is a great soothsayer for all the powerful Highland clans – except the MacRaes – and, most importantly for Aileana, Sgurr gave birth to a child years ago, a child who may belong to the MacDonald or MacLeod clans after she conducted simultaneous affairs with two knights from the warring factions. Sgurr is willing to say that this child is Aileana in order to save her from an unwanted liaison with Broc and a life in the kitchens; and rewards her with multiple treasures earned from her soothsaying to give Aileana a chance at a fresh start should she be entrapped.
As Errol comes to reevaluate his feelings for the adult Aileana and confronts Broc over his callous attempt at using her, Aileana worries that her reputation has been damaged beyond repair. When Laird MacRae tries to solve the rift between Broc and Errol by betrothing Aileana to Broc, Errol intervenes for reasons both protective and carnal. The engagement is met with jealousy and anger by most of the rival clans and especially by Broc, who threatens Errol’s life in order to bully Aileana into leaving. Will Errol find her when she runs? Will Aileana learn the truth of her paternity and discover the mystery hiding behind Sgurr’s eyes?
Aileana is a nice enough heroine; she’s quite consistent about her honor being her only form of self-worth, an understandable statement after surviving a difficult childhood. One does, however, wish the author had given her a main character flaw beyond cowardice – watching her run from her troubles without allowing her to eventually solve them herself proves to be quite a chore. The first time she does this it’s understandable; the second clearly only happens because the plot says it must and this makes her look like a ninny.
Errol is the sort of hero who thinks nothing about sleeping with the daughters of his father’s trusted friends two at a time before he reassesses his feelings for Aileana. Thankfully, the novel doesn’t really reward his habitually loose codpiece, seeing it as a flaw in his armor, and his rather snarky charisma helps improve his standing in the audience’s eyes. Unfortunately the size of the novel forces him to go from being a concerned quasi-big brother to erotically curious to hopelessly besotted by Aileana rather quickly; only the charming nature of their relationship compensates for the rapidity of its development.
Indeed, Errol and Aileana ultimately make a decent pair; she truly does live up to that ‘spitfire’ label when they’re together, and their romance is sweet and cute with an upshot of grown-up sensuality. Though he tries to force her hand, Aileana never gives in without her own heart having its say, nor does she run away from him for reasons of self-doubt or self-hatred. Their romance is absolutely the novel’s strongest selling point.
The supporting characters fare decently; the best is Sgurr, who is forthright and blunt but whose secret and motives are unfortunately fairly clear from the second chapter on. It’s impossible not to know what the inevitable truth about her child will be just from context clues alone. My second favorite is Laird MacRae, whose fondly grousing conversations with his son provide groundwork for the strongest secondary relationship of the novella. The theme of warring clans united by love plays out nicely as well.
I noticed a significant number of spelling and formatting errors in the advance copy I read, which I hope will be fixed prior to publication. The plot and pacing are somewhat uneven, but flawed though the story is, the charm of the characters, the little hints of magic sprinkled throughout, and the warmth of the central relationship make Her Highland Rogue a slightly above average read.