This book starts, rather strangely, partway through the plot. In the first few pages, we discover that Hero and Heroine had previously met offstage, had a romance, become lovers, then had a Big Misunderstanding which meant each thought the other dead and the man thought the lady had betrayed him. When this story starts, these events are a year in the past and the man, Lucas Murray, is returning to the village where the woman, Katerina Haldane, betrayed him to have his revenge on her (in some unspecified way, as he's not a man to do violence to women). When he discovers she died on the same day that she betrayed him, he doesn't know quite what to do.
Almost instantly, he runs into trouble and is rescued by - you've guessed it - the woman who
"died" a year ago.
Lucas instantly accuses her of turning her back on him, and thus we start Phase II of the Big Misunderstanding, this time being detailed for the reader rather than as backstory. I was rather concerned that this plot device would run through the whole book, but fortunately Lucas discovers the truth when, most fortuitously, he happens to be listening at a peephole to his enemies discussing their future plans, and they just happen to talk about the events a year ago,
laying the whole truth out for Lucas's greedy ears. How convenient, but unfortunately for this reader, it feels like an incredibly lazy author's
unbelievable plot device. Of course, it doesn't completely solve the Big Misunderstanding; although Lucas now knows he was mistaken, he has very much hurt Katerina
and must ask her for forgiveness. Sadly, it appears that, for Lucas, apologizing is about as easy as trying to nail jelly to the ceiling.
We are told right from the start who the baddies are - Agnes, Katerina's half-sister, who rather fancied Lucas herself but was rejected, and Ranald, an uncouth and violent man who wants to marry Agnes so that he can become Laird. At the moment, the Council who choose the Laird will not accept Agnes as her husband, Robbie, is unsuitable (and also missing; he ran away when he realized how awful Agnes was).
If they knew that Katerina was alive and if she married Lucas, the Council would almost certainly confirm her as Laird, thus the original attempted murders of Lucas and Katerina a year ago. Now
that the two are back together (or at least in proximity to each other), Agnes and Ranald mean to try again to murder them, and with
greater success. Can Lucas and Katerina survive, can they keep the people safe, can they forgive each other, etcetera etcetera? This is a formulaic book
with few surprises, but the story moves along reasonably well and there's a plot underpinning it, not something one always finds in this kind of book. For some reason, it continues on a couple of chapters further than strictly necessary after the main plot has finished; this
is presumably to give a more rounded view of the love story, but it feels rather superfluous.
I'm never entirely convinced by books with Scottish dialect. "Weel, mon, ye isnae stupid..." just reads uncomfortably to me. This book is littered with that kind of speech, and it can become a little trying after a while. However, the author is able to catch a little of the feeling of life in those times in the harshness of Scotland and the way in which the clans and families cared for each other. Despite its good points, this book is probably one for
existing fans of Hannah Howell rather than new readers, particularly because of the strange way in which the book starts partway through the story of Lucas and Katerina because it is part of a series.