I like nothing better than watching a tortured hero develop into a man who’s worthy of the love a warm heroine offers him. If you’re like me and have a weakness for angst-filled heroes, look no farther than this book. With the exception of a rather unbelievable plot twist and a heroine who borders on too-good-to-be-true, I liked everything about Briar Rose.
Captain Lionel Redmayne is dying, felled by a would-be assassin’s bullet on a deserted Irish hillside. He’s not grateful when a beautiful Irish lass saves him – he’s got nothing to live for, except perhaps to discover who tried to kill him. The list of his enemies is long and includes not only the local populace who hate all Englishmen, but also the men under his command – for Redmayne is not the kindest of commanders.
Rhiannon Fitzgerald could no more leave the handsome officer to die than she could desert any wounded animal that crosses her path. She’s traveling alone in the caravan she and her late father occupied; Kevin Fitzgerald lost their family home to a powerful man who took exception to the barrister’s habit of representing the downtrodden in court. An almost lame horse, a blind guard dog, and a very territorial cat are Rhiannon’s traveling companions. She still half-believes her mother was a fairy, because that’s what her father told her when she was five and her mother disappeared.
Convinced that he is unworthy of love, Lionel resists the simple (but not simple-minded) goodness of Rhiannon’s personality. He sets out to seduce her, thinking this will repel her to the point of abandoning him. Of course, the plan backfires, and when she comforts him after a nightmare, he panics and insists she take him back to his barracks immediately. It’s as much for his sanity as for her safety, since he knows his assassin is still after him.
I’m reluctant to say anything more about the plot, because it gets too complicated for a short review like this. I will say, though, that the story held my attention and I was sorry to come to the end of the book. Lionel is a very complex man whose innate goodness is constantly at war with the lessons he learned – the hard way – in childhood. As a result, his sense of humor is dark and very cynical. Our heroine has to work very long and hard to help him overcome the wounds of his past.
I did not like Rhiannon very well. She’s too good to be true. I like all my characters to have at least one major flaw, and I couldn’t find one in her: no temper, no anger – nothing like that. Considering that her mother abandoned her when she was but a wee one, it seems odd she harbors no resentment. She’s not stupid, but she does a couple of dumb things, and her sunny optimism begins to wear thin after a while, especially in the face of Lionel’s continuing rejection of her.
There’s a contrived twist to the plot concerning who’s trying to kill Lionel and why. What kept me going at that point was the prospect of the major-league grovel Lionel was going to have to engage in – one that really was occurring bit by bit, which I thought was an innovative approach. It was fun watching him delude himself about what was really going on, and why he was doing things that he normally wouldn’t. Terrific sexual tension and good, clean writing added to the fun of this read for me. Now, if only the author hadn’t made her heroine just the other side of a paragon, Briar Rose would have been an out-of-the-park home run. But hey, a triple is almost as good.