I was pleasantly surprised by Monica McCarty’s Campbell trilogy, which includes Highland Warrior (#1), Highland Outlaw (#2), and Highland Scoundrel (#3). They’re all good, steamy romances with a generous helping of clan battles, alliances, betrayals, and feuds that are all actually based on historical events. I personally preferred the second and third books in the series to the first, not because of a marked increase in overall quality, but because I liked the heroines better. Each of the alpha male heroes were dreamy in their own way, but they were all steadfast Protectors and singularly devoted to their women.
Highland Warrior plot summary: Jamie Campbell is one of the most feared men in the Highlands, known as the Enforcer or Argyll’s Henchman. Not lacking in any political power or fighting prowess, Jamie’s mission is to stomp out lawlessness in the Highlands, but doing so means encroaching on the old customs , traditions, and loyalties that previously ruled there. To his face men are deferential, but behind his back he is resented. Aware of his reputation, Jamie gave it little thought until he meets Caitrina of Clan Lamont. He’s there to see her father, who is suspected of harboring Campbell enemies. The Lamonts and Campbells, though not formal enemies, still aren’t on the same page politically, so Jamie finds that he has to overcome several hurdles to woo Caitrina. For her part, Caitrina is a bit spoiled and naive, and she’s also impetuous. Though over the course of the book she gains a little perspective, she starts very much as a typical teenager with all of the confidence of someone who thinks she has everything figured out. Despite this, Jamie is very taken by her and her spirit, and he sees that her being quick to emotion is a nice balance to his stoicism.
Highland Outlaw plot summary: The MacGregors are outlaws. They’ve been on the wrong side of political favor too many times, and after having their last piece of clan land sold from one branch of Campbells to another, they’re looking for revenge and to get back what they’ve lost. Patrick MacGregor, who goes by Patrick Murray to avoid trouble, is a captain of a group of MacGregor men. With his brother and their clan chief, Alisdair MacGregor, a plan is formulated for him to seduce and wed Elizabeth Campbell. Due to her stutter and seemingly timid nature, she’s had a hard time finding a husband, but — unusual for a woman — she has land to her name, most likely to sweeten the pot for potential suitors. And, lo! What land is hers? Why, it’s the old MacGregor territory! No wonder she would be an advantageous match! I was very concerned, based on the summary and premise, that this would be a Stockholm Syndrome story, which just does not do it for me at all, but despite his ulterior motive, Patrick’s plan to seduce Elizabeth never involves her in captivity or under his thumb, and of course, throughout his seduction, he himself realizes the extent of his love for her. This story had the most suspense for me, both due to the lack of security of Patrick’s men and to his deception of Elizabeth as to his true identity, but the love between them was organic and steamy nonetheless. Regarding Elizabeth, I liked her a lot. She had a good head on her shoulders, and she had a way of earning respect and admiration. She also was not a virgin, which tends to make certain love scenes easier to digest — particularly those in Highlander novels between 6’5, 250lb men and tiny, multi-orgasmic women with neverending natural lubricant and nipples that might as well be second and third clitorises for all of their sensitivity.
Highland Scoundrel: Well, you know with “scoundrel” in the title, you’re in for a treat. This one is about Duncan Campbell, an outlaw who was thought to have betrayed the clan ten years before the setting of the three novels. It opens in the “present”, with Duncan returning after exile to confront the woman he once loved, Jeannie Gordon née Grant. See, while his clan believes Duncan betrayed them, Duncan believes Jeannie betrayed him and framed him. After their disastrous reunion, the book flashes back to when their first meet and tells the story of how they fell in love and then how everything fell apart. It’s clear from this flashback that neither Duncan nor Jeannie is guilty (duh), but Duncan’s clan doesn’t believe him, and he doesn’t believe her, so he leaves. Flash forward to where they believe they hate each other because they both feel betrayed by the other, but that doesn’t stop their intense sexual chemistry. You know where this is going: while they attempt to rebuild their relationship — and it’s not easy because in his absence, Jeannie was married, had two children, and was widowed, making Duncan more skeptical of her loyalty — they also attempt to find evidence that clears Duncan’s name. This was probably the lustiest of the three books, but it was probably also the most frustrating, because the two of them are both so quick to temper and mistrust of the other, and it made me bang my head against the wall a bit.
All together, I liked these and would recommend them. Physically, the men are cut straight from the Highland Romance cloth, so you know they are all steel muscles and improbable heights, fierce attraction, and they call everyone “lass.” I’ve read so many romances this year that I couldn’t even honestly weight them against a solid block of gouda anymore, but I’ll re-iterate what I said above that in addition to the romance, the inter-clan politics were a genuinely interesting overarching plot across the books, and that part of the story kept me as engaged as the love story. I’ll probably be checking out McCarty’s other books.