Unlaced by the Highland Duke
Craving some historical romance comfort food? Then look no further. Unlaced by the Highland Duke, the second book in The Lochmore Legacy linked series of novels, features a widowed pair resigned to a lonely future without love or passion, suddenly surprised to discover their soulmate is someone they met (and dismissed) years ago. The principal characters are appealing, their love story is a low angst, slow burner that’s both tender and affecting, and there’s even a young child who enhances every scene in which he appears. Although this is the second novel in The Lochmore Legacy series, I read it as a standalone and had no problems keeping up with the story or the characters.
Since the death of his wife Bella two years ago, Benneit, Duke of Lochmore, has steadfastly refused to yield to her family’s demands to give over care of their son, Jamie. Ever since the death of his father a year ago they’d lessened the pressure, but Benneit knows it’s only a matter of time before they begin to press him once again. In fact, Unlaced by the Highland Duke begins with a surprise early morning visit from Lady Theale (Bella’s paternal aunt), who shows up at his home determined to take Jamie away with her. She’s accompanied by Mrs. Langdale, a poor cousin whose appearance has changed little in the six years since meeting Benneit met her during Bella’s dazzling season.
After enquiring after Mr. Langdale, Benneit is embarrassed and chagrined to learn he died two years ago, and the meeting gets off to an awkward start. The ensuing conversation goes much as Benneit expects – the Uxmores expect Lady Theale and Mrs. Langdale to bring Jamie to them, but Benneit has no intention of allowing him to go. After angrily dismissing Jamie and Mrs. Langdale from the room, Lady Theale laments Benneit’s poor parenting skills and not-so-subtly insinuates that his bachelor lifestyle is a bad influence on his young son. He informs her that he’s taking Jamie to his estate at Lochmore the following day, and that Jamie will have a new mother soon enough – he’s anticipating an engagement to Tessa McCrieff. The engagement will help secure the finances needed to restore the Lochmore estate and go a long way towards a rapprochement between the two estranged families. While the engagement is good news to Lady Theale, she insists on taking Jamie to the Uxmore estate and then on to school at St. Stephens. Benneit refuses and the conversation appears at an impasse until Lady Theale suggests he take Joane with him to Lochmore to act as a governess. Tired of arguing, he sharply sharply reminds her he’s the one who makes decisions about Jamie, and then acquiesces to her demand. Joane, who spent the entire conversation entertaining Jamie elsewhere, is given no choice in the matter.
The trip to Lochmore is significant for several reasons. Joane proves she’s adept at handling clever, imaginative and mischievous young boys, and their bad-tempered fathers; Jamie falls hard for his new governess; and Lochmore, no longer blinded by Bella’s extraordinary beauty and large personality, realizes Joane isn’t the plain and unremarkable woman he vaguely remembers. He’s intrigued by her and curious (read – jealous) about the man who was once her husband, while Joane isn’t quite sure what to think of Benneit. She assumed he would be arrogant and aloof – and he is those things – but he’s also kind, and she reminds herself that he’s probably changed over the last six years. Although their relationship is strained by their incorrect assumptions about one another, there’s also an unwanted spark of attraction between them, although both work hard to ignore and suppress it.
Unlaced by the Highland Duke unfolds more or less as you might imagine except Benneit and Joane aren’t your typical starry-eyed couple, and this isn’t their first rodeo. They’ve loved (sort of) and lost, and their shared history with Bella adversely affected their suppositions about each other. Most of the opinions they formed six years before are quickly proven misguided or flat out wrong, but neither is in a position to act on their change of heart – despite the intense physical and emotional attachment that develops between them shortly after they journey to Lochmore. Benneit intends to make Tessa his wife, and he struggles to reconcile his new fascination and desire for Joane with what he believes is his duty to Lochmore. Poor management by his father left the estate nearly destitute, his son needs a mother, and a marriage to Tessa will help to repair the rift between the families (the feud between them links all the books in the Lochmore Legacy). Joane longs to be free of the Uxmores and to earn enough money to buy a cottage and make a life for herself alone, and a relationship with Benneit is nowhere in her plans. They fight their attraction throughout the novel, and misunderstandings – largely caused by those pesky assumptions they made about each other long ago – plague the relationship.
I enjoyed the changing dynamic between Benneit and Joane, and when they finally start ‘officially’ liking each other and not pretending otherwise, they make a lovely couple. Their prickly early days give way to a tender affection and eventually a passionate affair. They fight their feelings with an almost desperate desire to avoid falling in love, but fall in love they do – and you root hard for them to figure it out. Both of our principal characters are GOOD people faced with bad choices, resigned to a future apart but willing to accept it. In less capable hands, the potential love triangle between Tessa, Benneit and Joane might have been a sordid mess, but Ms. Temple takes a different approach. Tessa is a kind and sweet friend to Joane and she recognizes what her friends do not – that they are destined for each other. She doesn’t begrudge them their feelings (and she has other plans!), and I liked this nuanced, sensitive approach to what could have been an ugly rivalry, and Tessa’s kindness is mirrored in Joane and Benneit’s love for each other. This is a gentle and sweet and charming and tender story – and the principal and secondary characters are mostly that, too.
While the romance between Benneit and Joane is the highlight of Unlaced by the Highland Duke, Ms. Temple’s description of Lochmore is also terrific. Scotland is almost another character in the story – one Ms. Temple is clearly fond of. Various secondary characters, Jamie and Angus (Benneit’s manservant), make memorable appearances, as does Joane’s ever-expanding Great Big List of Things I Did Not Know I Did Not Know, But Now I Know I Don’t list – used to great effect when conversing with Jamie. Joane’s relationship with Jamie is a bonus delight that enhances this story on many levels.
Unlaced by the Highland Duke is more proof that Ms. Temple deserves a place on your auto-buy list, and an excellent addition to The Lochmore Legacy series.