Secrets of a Highland Warrior
Secrets of a Highland Warrior is the fourth and final book in the Lochmore Legacy series, in which each instalment has been written by a different author and is set in a different time period. Interestingly, the story began in the Victorian era (with His Convenient Highland Wedding) and then moved back through time so it’s here that readers finally discover the truth behind the centuries-old animosity between the Lochmore and McCrieff clans, the reason for the empty crypt and the origin of the antique brooch found by Flora in the first book.
It’s Spring of 1293 in the Scottish Highlands, and Rory, son of the Lochmore chief, is journeying to meet with the chief of clan McCrieff in the attempt to once and for all resolve the long-standing dispute over a tract of land granted to the Lochmores by the English king. Anticipating a battle, Rory has ridden out with over a hundred of his men – only to meet with no opposition. All is quiet. There’s no sign of the enemy. Nothing bars the way on to McCrieff land or to the McCrieff stronghold – surely it’s a trap? With nothing but dishonour and his father’s wrath awaiting him should he return to Lochmore Castle empty-handed, Rory decides to proceed with caution, taking with him his closest friend and right-hand man, Paiden, and a few of his most trusted men. His uneasiness grows the closer they get to the McCrieff stronghold, and only increases when they are met by an imposing man – not the clan chief – who invites Rory and his men to eat at the McCrieff table.
Alisa is the daughter of Frederick – the man who greeted Rory – the Tanist of the clan. With their chief sick and dying of a mysterious complaint, the Tanist (the heir apparent) has stepped in to lead the clan, and given that many are still loyal to Hamish McCrieff, this is causing divisions that Frederick is at pains to keep hidden. Ailsa is the clan’s healer and has been unable to identify what ails the chief. All she can do is tend him which, for some reason she doesn’t understand and cannot question, he has decreed she must do alone. So it’s rare for her to have a moment to herself, but she manages to slip out to observe her father meeting with the Lochmores and is struck by the aura of power and dominance radiating from the man who is obviously their leader. When their eyes meet, her heart skips a beat – and when she learns his name, it brings back the memory of an old fable told to her by a dying woman many years ago, the tale of a baby named Rory born during the time of the Great Feud between the clans.
When Frederick proposes to Rory the easiest way to solve their current feud – that he marry his daughter – Ailsa is at first adamant in her refusal. But when she comes to realise that by doing so, she could prevent many deaths and injuries, she changes her mind and agrees to the match. For his part, Rory is suspicious; he is sure the Tanist’s motives go beyond a simple alliance, but can’t yet work out what it is. He and Ailsa are to say their vows that very evening, but everything is thrown into uproar when Paiden is poisoned during the pre-wedding feast, an action clearly designed to continue the Great Feud – but at whose behest?
I’m not a great reader of highland romances, mostly because those I’ve read all seem to revolve around the same two or three plotlines, usually involving opposing clans and arranged marriages. There’s an opposing clan AND an arranged marriage in this book, but thankfully, Nicole Locke puts a different spin on her story, with Ailsa working to save Paiden’s life while she and Rory work together to find out who ordered the poisoning. Running alongside this and the developing romance, is the thread concerning Rory’s long-held suspicions that he is not his father’s true son. While on the surface he’s your typical highland-warrior-hero (big, braw and brooding) beneath that there’s an attractive vulnerability to him; it’s his destiny to become Lochmore chief, but he knows he has no real right to that position and he’s deeply conflicted.
I have to applaud Ms. Locke for creating, in Ailsa, a flame-haired, highland heroine who isn’t a heedless spitfire for the sake of it. She isn’t backward about coming forward, that’s for sure, but she isn’t TSTL; she’s spirited and strong-willed, but she’s also intelligent and thinks things through – and Rory soon finds he rather likes her tendency to be outspoken. As he and Ailsa begin to set aside their suspicions, they start to look beyond the feud and to the possibility of a real future together; and the spark of attraction that flared between them when they first saw each other starts to burn, slowly at first, as they begin to learn more about each other and take their first steps towards trust, understanding and, eventually, love.
I confess that I haven’t yet read all the previous books, but this one does work as a standalone, even if you’re not familiar with the basic premise of the series. I liked the way the series is structured, with each book revealing something of the Lochmore legend, and everything is tied neatly together in a lovely, poignant epilogue written by Janice Preston. The Lochmore Legacy books have all received strong recommendations her at AAR and this one is no exception, so if you’ve been waiting until the series is complete to embark on this romantic journey through time, then now’s the time to begin.
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