The Highlander's Promise
The Highlander’s Promise is a Beauty and the Beast story between a laird and a gently-born lady. While the premise is not uncommon – an amnesiac heroine discovers love and passion with a strong alpha hero – the execution is poor. The characters are uninspiring and unimaginative and the interesting actions of the story are performed by secondary characters, even though the protagonists get a lot of page-time.
One day, when he’s out fishing, Aulay, laird of the Buchanans, finds an unconscious woman tied to a ship’s mast that’s been cast adrift in the ocean. When he reaches her, she briefly regains consciousness, calls him an angel and caresses the ruined side of his face. That experience is excruciating for Aulay. In the battle that killed his twin, his face was badly scarred and people look at him with contempt, avert their eyes, and shun him. He has become isolated, he’s beset with bouts of depression, and his self-worth is at its lowest, when out of the blue, a lady calls him an angel. Suddenly, he can believe that he might have a wife someday who wouldn’t shrink in horror from him. And he is drawn to her like iron to lodestone.
When Aulay and his brother, Alick, take her to their hunting lodge on shore, they discover how badly the woman is hurt. While Alick rides off to the Buchanan seat to bring their brother, Rory, (a healer), and some of their other relatives to help, Aulay tries to get her warm. Starved for female company, while he is changing her, he wants to ravish her bosom. Luckily, self-disgust steps in, and he finishes taking care of her, but he is hooked.
When she wakes up from her coma three weeks later, she has no recollection of who she is or how she got there. She cannot recall her own name, so Aulay names her Jetta. She also cannot recall that out on the ocean when they first found her, she’d said that someone was trying to kill her. Jetta is now one of three women in the lives of the Buchanan brothers whose life was under threat and needed the Buchanans to keep her safe.
Since Aulay is sleeping on a pallet on the floor of her room, Jetta immediately assumes that he is her husband. And it naturally follows that she must be strongly attracted to her husband, and so thenceforward, she instantly desires him.
In order to keep the delicate balance of her mind from being disrupted, Rory asks Aulay to keep up the fiction of being Jetta’s husband. But Aulay’s self-control is minimal. He simply cannot keep his hands off her, and despite knowing that she’s gently bred and has amnesia, he becomes intimate with her. He may not have completed the act, but for all intents and purposes, he makes love to her, and even though she enjoys it, the idea is no less repugnant to me. Can an amnesiac consent? Is it okay for a person to knowingly make love to someone who might wake up and be horrified that this happened to them? And despite this, Aulay continues on with his sensual forays with Jetta, but luckily he is stopped short by one of his relatives each time. At one point, Rory says:
“I will warn you one last time, brother. If you take her innocence, you will have to marry her.”
Aulay scowled at him with irritation. “Brother, I understand ye’re only looking out fer the lass, but I am the eldest brother. I am laird at Buchanan and you no’ make me do anything I do no’ wish to do.”
Aulay seems to have no sense of honor where Jetta is concerned, and he is petulant and immature to boot. I saw nothing of the leader in Aulay in this story; he’s easily led by what others say and most of the action in the story is initiated or suggested by his family members. Simple tasks like cleaning a wound to the back of Jetta’s head defeat him. Right after his marriage to Jetta, while the clan is enjoying the feast at which they’re the guests of honor, the two of them head to a barn for four rounds of sex. He is laird and newly married and owes his clan the consideration and respect of showing up to let them celebrate the event. They only come out of the barn because it catches on fire and Jetta has to rouse him to save the horses. Where are his warriors’ instincts?
The standard heroine – innocent in everything but hot in bed – plays out here, too, but with an even larger disparity between the two unconvincing halves of her persona than is usual for historical romances. I found Jetta insipid and lackluster. Granted, she has amnesia and was found half-dead, but as she recovers physically, I would assume that she should become more lively and acquire some personality. But she behaves like a dim-witted person, easily led by the stronger women around her, and the only animation she shows is lust for her supposed husband.
I’m not fond of written-out, heavy accents, but that is my own quirk and it may not bother you. There were other niggles that irritated me, too, such as the mention of bedside tables in a bare-bones hunting lodge, no maidservants brought in to look after Jetta despite Aulay’s being laird, being able to finish a hunt in the time it took Jetta to finish her ablutions, and so on.
While the plot elements in terms of unmasking the mystery behind Jetta and why she ended up trussed up on the mast are interesting, the characters themselves sank the story. If the characters fail to invoke any sort of emotion in the reader, then the story is dead in the water. This is true of The Highlander’s Promise, and I cannot recommend it.