The Chief: A Highland Guard Novel
Imagine if you crossed a group of Navy SEALs with Highland warriors from the early fourteenth century. You’d probably end up with the elite group of kilt-clad bad boys envisioned by Monica McCarty. And while The Chief, first of the Highland Guard novels, isn’t groundbreaking, it’s a solid beginning to a series where, I presume, each one of these warriors will have the chance to tell his tale.
All Christina Fraser wants is a romance like the ones in her beloved tales of Sir Lancelot. Her father, however, has other more practical uses for the young girl and her frail sister, Beatrix. Specifically, Andrew Fraser plans to offer one of them to entice Chief Tormod “Tor” MacLeod of the Western Isles to join in Scotland’s fight against the tyrant English King Edward. But Tor, a renowned warrior dedicated only to the wellbeing of his own clan, wants nothing to do with mainland Scotland’s political turmoil. Despite the offer of a beautiful bride, he has no trouble turning down Robert Bruce’s request that Tor train and lead a band of highly skilled, specialized warriors to wage a guerilla war against England.
Obsessed with gaining vengeance for the years he was held in an English prison, Andrew forces Christina to sneak into Tor’s bed by threatening to beat Beatrix. He promises he will “discover” the two in a compromising position before anything can happen to Christina, and that Tor will be honor-bound to marry her. Christina never expects that a drowsy Tor will mistake her for a willing woman gifted to him by their host, and before she can explain or stop him, Tor has taken her virtue for real. Angry at having been tricked, it is only after Tor negotiates other desirable alliances that he agrees to marry Christina as well as to train the new Highland Guard for three months.
Tor and Christina return to his fortress, and Christina throws herself into making a warm and inviting home, hoping to find love and romance. She believes that beneath his rough exterior Tor has the ability to be a tender, loving husband. Tor, however, is determined to remain emotionally detached, and it is only when the two share a bed that he allows the passion that he feels for her to come out. But every morning, he slips away, leaving Christina confused and heartbroken. Meanwhile, Tor works in secret to train the hand picked group of men chosen to be a part of Robert Bruce’s Highland Guard.
Nothing about this book is very unique. In fact, more than once I got the sensation that I’d read it before, although enough of it seemed unfamiliar that I finally convinced myself that I hadn’t. Tor is a tough, emotionally closed off warrior whose loyalty to clan supersedes anything else in his life. Christina is a heroine of the Julie Garwood variety, naïve and optimistic albeit not quite so klutzy or ditzy. And I wasn’t sure why Christina’s father, Alex, believed that forcing Tor to marry Christina would convince him to aid his cause. Indeed, the promise by another clan chief to help Tor avoid a local war was truly the tipping point, and he only married her out of guilt.
But the writing is solid, the story clips along at a nice pace, and the concept of a group of superior warriors intriguing in the same way that I find modern day band-of-brothers series to be.
I also appreciated that the trickery used to force Tor to marry Christina was handled efficiently. While he at first held her responsible, Tor soon came to see that Christina was as much a victim as he was, and his anger with her quickly disappeared. His determination to keep her at arm’s length stemmed more from his belief that wives were of little use beyond providing children and that he could trust no-one, a far more convincing conflict that some misguided sense that he’d been tricked by a devious woman.
While this isn’t a book I can see myself reading over and over, I found it compelling enough to pick up the next title in the Highland Guard series, The Hawk. If it is as well-written as The Chief, I will enjoy working my way through all of the gentlemen warriors’ stories.