Treachery and secrets abound in this story about an English spinster and the man who really doesn’t want her in his life because he already has enough on his plate. Fate, however, has something else in mind for these two in Border Lord.
Duncan Maxwell’s life is turned upside down by two events: his salt supplies (which provide something to trade for his people to live on) are stolen, and an Englishwoman who survives a shipwrecked becomes his hostage. Since the woman looks like she comes from money, he believes he can ransom her to make up for the loss of the salt, otherwise his people will starve. Catherine Armstrong, on her way to Cornwall along with her stepbrother Charles, has survived a storm at sea, an attempt on her life aboard the ship, and being thrown overboard only to find herself captive by the the man they call the Black Bastard. Soon, however, Catherine begins to determine that this man’s love for his seven motherless children and his people is stronger than the dark reputation he boasts – a reputation that includes something sinister as the reason that all four of his wives have died.
While the stubborn Catherine refuses to speak, she does manage to make herself an integral part of the household, and it certainly does seem that both Catherine and Duncan’s Aunt Brigit enjoy doing as they please. Aside from getting everything and everyone in shape, Catherine (or Kate, or Nessa’s Lady, or Ladykate, depending on who’s talking to her) also decides that Duncan’s children need a proper religious education, something which stems from the loss of one of his wives. As Duncan relents and softens, she forms plans to send word to her family that she’s alive and to help Duncan’s people. There is danger around courtesy of a villain and that danger threatens the happiness Duncan and Catherine have at long last found.
Although Border Lord can be charming at times, especially when it comes to Duncan’s children, and the love that both Duncan and Catherine feel for them, there are some small flaws. Catherine is definitely stubborn and feisty, and if you dislike feisy heroines, this will influence how much you like Border Lord Duncan is a better delineated character – it’s certainly refreshing to have as the hero a someone who is not a man of leisure. Duncan and his people have to toil to earn their bread. The dialogue is filled with words like “auld” and “kent” and “doona” for flavor, which is fine, but it was a little jarring to find a just a few occurrences of Scots brogue occurring in the narrative, especially when most of it is written in plain English. The pacing could also have been more consistent too, since the story dragged in the middle. Still, I spent a few very pleasant hours in Duncan, Catherine (and the children’s) company, and I look forward to Ms. Smith’s next book.