In Claire Delacroix’s latest offering, The Beauty, we find both a wounded hero and a wounded heroine whose experiences have shaped them into bitter, frightened people. Jacqueline De Crevy has been frightened of men ever since she was almost raped by her former fiancé. She is a beautiful woman who is tired of men not seeing past her looks to the person inside. Because of this, she has decided, against the wishes of her mother and stepfather, to become a nun. She insists that this is the one way for her to use her gifts in a positive way and that this is a higher calling. On her way to the convent, Angus MacGillivary and his cohort, Rodney, attack her and her guards. Angus means to kidnap Jacqueline and hold her for ransom for the wrong he feels has been done to him.
Angus went off to fight in the Crusades and has come home to find all of his family dead and Ardfinnan, his holding, supposedly held by his family’s enemy Cormac MacQuarrie. When he kidnaps Jacqueline, he believes that she is Cormac’s daughter Mhairi. What he doesn’t realize is that both Cormac and Mhairi are dead and that he has kidnapped the current laird’s stepdaughter. Angus had some very traumatic experiences while fighting the Crusades. He was imprisoned, tortured, and lost an eye. All that got him through was thinking about coming home, but when he did, he found he had nothing to come home to. He is certainly bitter, but not evil. Jacqueline is frightened of him and tries to run away from him, hurting herself in the process. Although Angus is angry, he never treats her cruelly.
As Jacqueline learns more about Angus, not from the man himself but from a wise woman named Edanna, she comes to realize he is a man on a noble mission. Angus doesn’t want money; he wants Ardfinnan back as it is his home and his due. While Jacqueline doesn’t believe her stepfather knows anything about Angus’ home, she wants to help him. Soon, she comes to see that not all men are like her former fiancé, Reynaud. Despite himself, Angus is also drawn to her. From the beginning, it’s made clear that although he finds her beautiful, Angus is not just interested in her pretty face; he is drawn to her soul and to her personality. There are a number of touching scenes in the book, but one that stands out occurs when Angus is having a nightmare – he takes hold of Jacqueline’s hair and is immediately calmed. To him she is all sunlight and what is good in the world. These two share a bond far beyond basic attraction.
The action in the book is also very well paced, and the issues surrounding Angus and Jacqueline – him wanting his home back, her becoming a nun – add to the overall story rather than detract from it. That said, however, Jacqueline does do two things that could be construed as stupid. One is running away from Angus. Based on her past experiences with men, though, this is understandable. Her other stupid move comes out of the love she feels for him; but rather than helping, she ends up endangering both of their lives in the process. Even with the poor result, I couldn’t stay mad at Jacqueline, because she did act out of love.
I was completely won over by these two characters. The most touching scene for me occurs late in the book: earlier in the story Angus says that since he only has one eye it may not be easy to regain his holding, because defending it will be difficult. Later, when they are escaping from their prison, she stays to fight. He says to her: “I bade you flee. Indeed, I asked you to pledge it.” She replies“…Who would guard your blinded side, Angus, if not me?” I have read a lot of romances, with a lot of brave and wonderful heroines but Jacqueline’s words are some of the most heart wrenching I’ve read.
I also like how the ending was handled – it was somewhat unexpected. Old demons are exorcised, hope is restored, and like a small gift, something particularly heartwarming occurs. You’re just going to have to pick up this book for yourself to see what happens – and I recommend that you do.