Secrets of the Highwayman
After sifting through the numerous paranormal aspects of Secrets of the Highwayman, I finally determined that it is mostly a time-travel book, although it felt more like a ghost story to me – a very scary ghost story at that. The book’s premise may be romance, but the story revolves around the villain who puts a new face on evil and proves to be the most interesting character as well.
Attorney Melanie Jones has a reputation for creating order out of chaos and as someone who can always be depended upon to do the job right the first time. Referred to as a control freak by many, Melanie prefers to think she lives her life with the rough edges smoothed over and every possible deviation noted and sidelined. Her law firm knows she is the perfect choice for the job of categorizing the household belongings of the deceased owner of the Ravenswood estate to prepare it for sale.
As Melanie nears Ravenswood late at night, she is terrified when she notices a man with a mask covering half his face on a large horse racing beside her car. His clothing definitely indicates that he is from another time and the huge black hound running by his side makes it all the more unreal until he looks straight into her eyes and winks before disappearing. Upon arriving at the estate, she learns that the ghost of one Nathaniel Raven is often seen around the place and his portrait confirms he’s the ghost she’s just seen.
Nathaniel is the infamous Raven – shot in 1814 in the act of highway robbery. Heir to Ravenswood, he fought valiantly in the war against Napoleon and it was never determined what made such a fine young gentleman turn to a life of crime. But the wealth and upstanding nature of the Raven family provided no protection for its members and all died within years of Nathaniel’s death.
Melanie plans her work schedule thoroughly, but never gets much done with the many distractions found at every turn. As she takes her morning run, she is inexplicitly drawn to a close-by hill and as she reaches its crest, a power pulls her into a crevice in the rocks. She literally tumbles into another realm called the between-worlds and its ruler gives Melanie no choice but to follow her to Ravenswood in the year 1813. Although she is invisible to the many people present at the Yuletide Ball, she recognizes Nathaniel Raven from his portrait and he alone can both see her and talk to her as well. In his prime, he is even more handsome than his portrait promised and he tells her of his chance to change history and save his family, himself, and Ravenswood. The ruler of the between-worlds has determined that Melanie is a suitable mortal to help Nathaniel with the task, but refuses to guarantee their success. It certainly won’t be easy, but together they may defeat the evil that caused the fall of the Raven family.
As I expected from Melanie by this point, she has no desire to assist with Nathaniel’s redemption and makes it very clear. Apparently she has some physic ability she learned to suppress and refuses to open the door to those happenings again. It is at this point that the career-driven Melanie disappears into a very confusing plot. Her setup as the controlling workaholic is of little consequence to the ongoing story, but her reputation as a difficult person remains firmly in place.
Nathaniel, on the other hand, isn’t difficult at all and his talent lies more in ill-timed decisions or impulsive acts than as a hero who saves the day. His character seems little more than secondary and easily blends in with the background until it comes to the love scenes. There are many and, although their lovemaking seems to generate a power for Melanie, the love scenes stay firmly on the page rather than sizzle with chemistry. Most of my thoughts concerning Nathaniel were attempts to figure out why he felt the need to turn to highway robbery. It never made sense to me nor did I ever discover the motivation and, therefore, the Secrets of the Highwayman remained just that.
Rather than a love story between Melanie and Nathaniel, this was more of a story between Melanie and the villain, Pengorren. It was their chilling relationship that kept me anchored to the book and cautiously looking around the corner for the next horror. It is evident early on that Pengorren was responsible for a monstrous injustice to the Raven family and this is the mystery contained within. Regrettably, their relationship becomes so convoluted that I eventually found it difficult to follow.
Unfortunately, the ending doesn’t provide many answers to the mystery and actually adds a few more questions to the mix. Possibly if I read the final 25 pages a few more times, I may discover what truly happened in the final scenes but by that time, I just didn’t care. And although there is an HEA for Melanie and Nathaniel, I could have easily accepted a parting of the ways because, once again, I just didn’t care.