Highlander Ever After
Highlander Ever After has a very leisurely plot for about the first two thirds of the book, then in the last third it takes off like a rocket. Even though there’s not a lot of action for much of the book, the very likable characters make it a fun read.
Zarabeth is a member of a noble family from the mythical Balkan country of Nvengaria. She and her family have been friends with Highland laird Egan MacDonald for a number of years, and she even had a girlish tendre for him. However, affairs of state led her to marry Sebastian, a member of the Council of Dukes. Sebastian was cruel, controlling and ultimately proved to be a traitor to Damian, the Imperial Prince of Nvengaria. When Sebastian’s plans came into the light, Zarabeth filed for divorce and Prince Damian sent her and her bodyguard Baron Valentine, a Nvengarian logosh (shapechanger) to Egan for protection.
Egan is a former soldier, a bluff, kind man who loves his home (even if it is falling down and has a curse on it), loves his family (even when they throw silly chits at him in a not so subtle hint that he ought to marry) and generally just wants to be left alone in peace. Egan’s nephew Jamie is the heir to the lairdship (Jamie isn’t too happy about it) and Egan is perfectly happy seeing to estate matters and enjoying the peace of a settled life. He remembers Zarabeth and her family with fondness and is only too happy to offer her sanctuary. When she arrives, her beauty and charm impress all the inhabitants of Castle MacDonald, even Egan, who has sworn that he’s too old and worn out to marry. When Zarabeth and Egan begin to spend time with each other and propinquity has its way with them and they begin to realize they love each other. Then Zarabeth’s father comes by with news. Even though Sebastian is dead, Nvengarian plotters are after Zarabeth and she needs the protection of a husband.
For much of the time, Highlander Ever After is a leisurely book mostly concerned with Zarabeth and Egan getting reacquainted with each other. They are both very pleasant characters and I liked them very much. Egan was a rather beta characters and not the ultra alpha highland lairds who populate romance novel land. Sure he’s big and brawny and can handle a claymore like it was a toothpick, but having seen more than his share of fighting and bloodshed, Egan would rather be out on his horse riding over his land and helping the tenants. Egan is really very sweet and has a sense of humor as shown in one scene where he plays the part of a wild highlander with his face painted blue when his sister brings a couple of silly debutantes to the castle.
Both Egan and Zarabeth are likable characters. She is sensible and smart, and possessed of a mild gift. She can sense people’s thoughts, although she has never been able to sense Egan’s. However (and I knew this was coming a mile away) she does gain the power to sense them when she is in trouble in the climax of the book. The love scenes shared by this couple are sweet, and just hot enough.
There was enough Nvengarian skullduggery going on in the last part of the book to keep things interesting after the leisurely beginning. My biggest criticism is that frankly, I could have done without the woo woo stuff entirely. There were vast stretches of the story where it isn’t in evidence, and Zarabeth’s ability to read people’s thoughts seems to be very haphazard. However, this wasn’t enough to kill my enjoyment. I have been a fan of Jennifer Ashley’s books for a long time and enjoy her combination of storytelling and light humor very much.