No matter how many Regency-set historical novels you’ve read, you haven’t yet met two characters exactly like the protagonists in this story. So refreshing are Scott military hero Liam Lockhart and young mother Ellen Farnsworth that the breath of invigorating air they bring with them is more than enough to overcome their occasionally (okay, more than occasionally) frustrating behavior.
The first of a new trilogy for the author featuring the Lockhart family, the story centers around the quest for a bejeweled statue (always called “the beastie”) stolen from the Scots branch of the Lockhart family hundreds of years earlier. Now in the possession of the estranged English branch of the family, 35-year-old Captain Lockhart sets out for London in order to steal it back, sell it, and restore his family’s flagging fortunes.
In need of a place to stay while he tires to worm his way into the good graces of the English Lockharts, Liam finds lodging in the Belgrave Square home of miser, gambler, and all around unpleasant guy Lord Farnsworth. Since the pinchpenny Lord uses the income he earns from letting the suite to pay for his gambling habit, he charges an exorbitant rent – one that Liam is desperate enough to pay. But he has good cause to question his own sanity at agreeing to the bargain when he discovers that his money buys him little more than bad food and bad service.
Liam’s stay in the household also isn’t without a few unexpected surprises, not the least of which is the nine-year old girl he discovers has broken into his rooms. Natalie tells the flummoxed Captain Lockhart that she was born in the kingdom of Laria, the daughter of a naval hero and a mother presently away in the faraway land seeking treatment for a mysterious medical condition.
Natalie’s story is, of course, the fantasy of a child and her mother, in fact, is the beautiful woman previously spied by Liam in a nearby park. Attracted to Liam as Liam is to her, the two begin to meet surreptitiously to share both the good food (a rare commodity in the household) they somehow manage to find, as well as a bit of grown-up companionship (an equally rare commodity) for the lonely adults . But Ellen is a woman with secrets and critical responsibilities to a child she fears is becoming more and more lost in her fantasies – both of which make falling in love a circumstance she can ill afford.
What I loved here were the characters of Liam and Ellen. A take charge, no nonsense, just-get-it-done kind of guy, Liam’s lack of social polish makes him an appealingly sexy (in a rumpled kind of way) hero, as well as a fun one. Liam is one of those big men who sometimes seem a bit uncomfortable with their bodies, and his impatience with the social niceties clearly telegraphs to the reader just what Liam thinks is – and isn’t – important. And with his family depending so heavily on his bringing home the beastie, his growing feelings for Ellen may well have to take second place.
The meetings between Ellen and Liam, set amongst the constraints of a repressive and oppressive household, sparkle. Ms. London also does a fabulous job of portraying the very realistic progression of sexual tension to budding love for two prickly characters, as well as the mother’s very real concerns for a daughter slipping deeper into fantasy with every passing day. Though Ellen’s feelings for Liam are powerful, first and foremost, she is a mother and, while I found the actions she takes frustrating, they were certainly understandable.
And therein lies my quibble. Though I found her characters fascinating, less effective for me, however, were the circumstances surrounding the hunt for the beastie and the actions both characters choose to take. Revealing more would definitely be dabbling in spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that the mechanics of the plot are both predictable and frustrating.
But, when all is said and done, Liam and Ellen are more than enough to make up for it all. These two are real people – warts and all – and, while I may have found the mechanics of the plot less compelling than I did her protagonists, ultimately Highlander Unbound is a appealing romance between two wonderful characters. And considering the recycled (again and again and again) heroes and heroines peopling so many European Historicals these days, that alone earns this book a solid recommendation.