The Highland Commander
The Highland Commander finds its inspiration in real life events surrounding the Jacobite uprisings of the early 1700s. I’ll admit that my knowledge of 18th Century Scottish politics is sadly lacking; however I know enough to understand the danger behind a Scotsman discussing the cause during this period.
Lord Aiden Murray and his fellow officers of the naval ship Royal Mary arrive at the Earl Marischal’s Hogmanay ball eager for entertainment and a chance to mingle with their countrymen after months at sea. His attention is almost immediately caught by a young woman dancing with another guest. Enthralled by her graceful moves and wide smile, Aiden cannot take his eyes off of her and cuts in. As they move across the floor Aiden finds himself charmed by the lady’s quick mind. Hoping to keep her attention a little longer Aiden steals her away from the ballroom for a moment alone.
The chance to attend the celebration at her father’s castle is a rare treat for Lady Magdalen Keith. As the Earl Marischal’s illegitimate daughter, Maddie was exiled from the family lands by her stepmother and the ball is an opportunity to flirt and dance with the soldiers before returning to her life outside the castle walls. Being recognized and supported by her father gives Maddie some clout within the community and independence from the life normally outlined for the daughter of an earl. Maddie has used that freedom to run a small hospital for women and provide comfort for those in need, but it doesn’t allow for much interaction with men of any kind, let alone those willing to marry a bastard. When a handsome officer cuts into her dance, Maddie is immediately captivated by his soulful eyes and his polite manners as compared to the other men there. Caught up in the excitement of the evening Maddie exchanges first names with the young man and allows him to kiss her, sparking something deep in her heart. It’s an incredible feeling that Maddie holds onto long after the crew of the Royal Mary has sailed away.
A little more than a month after the celebration, Maddie receives an unexpected visit from her stepmother with horrible news. The Earl Marischal is accused of plotting against Queen Anne in support of the exiled James Francis Edward Stuart (the ‘Old’ Pretender) and is being held as a prisoner in London. Unable to travel because of her pregnancy, the countess begs Maddie to go to London to represent the family and plead the earl’s innocence to the Queen. It’s a task Maddie is completely unprepared for as she’s never left the small town of Stonehaven since her birth. Still, the thought of her father being punished or hanged is enough to overcome Maddie’s fears and she leaves Scotland without any idea of how to gain an audience with Her Majesty. Her situation gets worse when she arrives in England only to learn that because of his arrest all of the Earl’s property has been seized and Maddie has nowhere in London to stay and knows no one who can help her.
Aiden never expected to see the bonny lass from the Earl’s masquerade again so he’s startled by her presence at the London docks. She is clearly in distress but Aiden’s plans for his two-week leave from the Royal Mary don’t include helping a young lady out of a bind – he had hoped to fill his days pursuing more carnal delights. However once Aiden learns that Maddie is in town to try and save her father from the gallows he knows he has to assist her. Aiden puts her up at his father’s townhouse and escorts Maddie to Whitehall to lend her his support as she appeals to the Queen. Living under the same roof as Maddie causes nothing but frustration for Aiden as he’s eager to finally experience pleasure with a woman – but the object of his desire is as innocent as he is. It would be impossible to offer Maddie a future when his career in the navy will separate them for years at a time. To pursue his feelings for Maddie would be scandalous, yet she seems just as interested as he is to change the nature of their relationship.
All too soon court politics and England’s ongoing conflict with France and Spain come between Aiden and Maddie, separating them for a year. When Aiden returns to England it’s only to learn that Maddie has been accused of a plot to assassinate Queen Anne. With time running out, Aiden must choose between risking everything to save the only woman he’s ever loved or following his father’s decree to forget her forever.
The Highland Commander throws its protagonists deep into the rising tensions between England and Scotland during the reign of the last Stuart monarch. Loyalties are constantly questioned and all it takes is a whispered accusation of treason for a life to be ruined. Maddie’s sheltered life in Stonehaven insulated her from so many of the prejudices she faces in London that she’s overwhelmed by the games people play in the name of power. Even her father tries to manipulate Maddie into spying on Queen Anne when she remains in London as a court musician. Maddie has no desire to get involved in the cause and it pains her that everyone who becomes her friend seems ready to stab her in the back because of her nationality. Aiden has seen the prejudices first hand as the Scottish navy has integrated with the English, and through it he’s felt the pull towards the Jacobite cause. His political leanings fly in the face of his father’s pro-government stance, so when Aiden becomes heir-apparent to the Duke of Atholl, he has to decide if his individual beliefs are worth jeopardizing the family’s position with the Queen.
It would be easy to get mired in all of the history unfolding around Maddie and Aiden but their romance is a pleasant diversion from the ugliness of the times. After their meeting at the masquerade they are smitten with each other and their reunion in London cements their feelings, though neither one will admit just how far they’ve fallen in love. Since they are both virgins Aiden and Maddie discover the joys of sexual expression together and it binds them in a way that no prince, queen or county can tear apart. The only hiccup in their romance comes at the very end of the book when Maddie reaches an emotional breaking point and questions her impact on Aiden’s life. Her choices at that moment put everything they’ve sacrificed and fought for in jeopardy and it’s seems out of character for the strong, passionate woman she is. Aiden’s patience and love for Maddie saves her from making a terrible mistake and his final show of loyalty to her above all is a beautiful moment that caps his journey into becoming an honorable man away from the influence of his father.
With a cast of characters straight out of the history books, The Highland Commander doesn’t shy away from using the ongoing political chess game of the time to heighten the threats against Maddie and Aiden’s future together. Readers should be prepared to lose their hearts to a brave couple who go through hell and back to secure a love that can withstand any risk.