Although I liked this story, I found myself getting annoyed by the stubbornness of the characters and the back and forth, “I love him/her but I can’t be with him/her.” I think it went on way too long. I mean, I understand being prideful and stubborn but when it goes on too long and when the characters do things to try to get the other person out of their head and heart, they diminish that love and after so long, I start just not caring if they are with each other or not.
I was so disappointed in Magnus when he openly flirted with the serving girl, Joanna, in front of Helen and then actually went to meet the girl to have sex with her and would have if Helen had not intervened. I was ready to give up on his ‘Saintly’ character. I couldn’t believe that Helen went into the dark storage room and when Magnus grabbed ahold of her in the dark thinking she was the serving girl, groping her and saying dirty things to her and when Helen didn’t let him know it was her and let him almost have sex with her even after he called her Joanna. If I were Helen, it would have broken my heart and my pride would have never forgiven him but she knew he was trying to prove to himself and everyone else that he was over her. It wreaked of desperation. My heart broke during this scene. The only saving grace for Helen was how she told Joanna that Magnus had a wee rash down there so she wouldn’t meet him…it cracked me up.
Magnus MacKay is part of the secret group of elite warriors who make up Robert Bruce’s Highland Guard. They are thought of as “phantom warriors” because nobody knows if they are myth or truth. They go on secret missions for King Robert under disguise. Their motto is, “Bas roimh géill” which means “Death before surrender” because they would be tortured until they gave up the identities of the others in the group if they were captured but none of these warriors would ever talk.
Helen Sutherland met Magnus when she was fourteen on the beach at the Highland Games. The Sutherland’s and MacKay’s have a long standing feud. The families hate each other but Helen and Magnus didn’t care and have been meeting secretly for years at the games. When Helen turns eighteen, Magnus asks her to marry him but her brother catches them together and guilts her into choosing her family over him because of her father’s illness. She has to make a split decision and chooses her family but instantly regrets it and never forgets Magnus. She believes he will come after her and they will run away together but he never does. Her family betroths her to her brother’s friend, William Gordon who just happens to be part of the Highland Guard, unbeknownst to Helen or anyone.
In past books, especially the last book, Magnus does not join in with the other’s men dirty talk of women which has earned him his nickname “Saint” and he always walks away when his best friend and partner talks about his betrothal. Only Lachlan MacRuairi has caught onto the truth though. Magnus has never said a thing about Helen to anyone. He doesn’t think he has a chance since Helen’s refusal to marry him. William doesn’t even know Helen. He is just doing what his family wants him to do.
It’s been years but when Helen sees Magnus at the castle where she is to be married, she goes to him before the ceremony and professes her love to him but he tells her he doesn’t feel the same so she goes ahead and marries William Gordon. At the wedding feast, she sees Magnus with a woman on his lap and doesn’t cover her reaction before her new husband sees it. William finally figures it out and refuses to bed Helen on their wedding night, saying he will not sleep with someone who is in love with someone else. He tells her he will give her a few hours to figure out if she wants to have the marriage annulled or not and leaves her alone to decide but he never returns that night because the Highland Guard is called away on a secret mission to rescue the king’s brother, Edward Bruce.
The story has lots of action and loosely follows events in history regarding Robert Bruce. A lot of the events happen at the home of the Sutherland’s, Dunrobin Castle. The author has really done her homework. As an added bonus, she adds her author’s notes at the end of each book and writes about her inspirations and about the real events that happened in history. I have to admire her inventiveness and her knowledge of history.
I am really starting to like Robert Bruce’s character. He sees more than people realize and he has a wicked sense of humor. I loved when Helen, after studying how the servants flirted, was trying to get Magnus to notice her so she wore a low-cut dress and bent way over while serving him and Robert Bruce their wine and Magnus started squirming in his seat because she was getting to him…how Helen thought he was squirming because he had hemorrhoids but Robert Bruce knew why and started choking because he was trying not to laugh. It was hilarious.
There was also a side story about William Sutherland and his love for the physician’s daughter.
The book also had a lot about the other brother, Kenneth Sutherland who may become the new recruit to the Highland Guard.
Of course, I’m going to read the next book in the series, The Recruit. Hmmmm, I wonder what it’s about?