Series: Highland Guard #7.5
Published by Monica McCarty on December 9, 2013
Genres: Historical Romance
The year is 1311, and the battle for Scotland’s independence rages on… Stripped of his lands by the English king who killed his father, James Douglas will do whatever it takes to see his clan’s honor and fortune restored. The ambitious young knight, whose dark visage, powerful stature, and ferocity in battle has earned him the epithet “the Black,” knows he must use fear, force, and intimidation to defeat the English, put Robert the Bruce on Scotland’s throne, and restore the honor of the Douglas name. Nothing and no one will get in his way. Not even the lass who captured his heart in childhood and still holds it in her delicate hands.
Joanna Dicson has loved James Douglas for as long as she can remember. That she is “only” the daughter of the marshal of Douglas Castle has never concerned her. Yet even as James’s ruthless reputation grows, and despite the warnings of others to guard her heart—and her virtue—against him, Joanna never dreams he will turn on her. He loves her and would never hurt her. But when James returns to Douglas to force the English garrison from his castle, Joanna learns that their love is nothing against his ambition. His marriage—like everything else—will be a means of bettering his clan. Heartbroken and humiliated, Joanna is left alone with a secret that may destroy them both.
James Douglas is a warrior fighting for Robert the Bruce in 1311. Joanna Dicson, the marshall’s daughter, grew up with James and the two have loved each other for years, consummating their relationship the last time James was home from campaign. James rises quickly within the Bruce’s ranks and earns the nickname “The Black Douglas” for his ruthless and effective fighting style. Years ago, the Douglas title and lands were stripped from James’ family by the English king and he has been on a vengeance quest to reclaim them ever since. A mission from Robert brings him back to his hometown where he meets up with Joanna again. Unbeknownst to James, Joanna carries his child, but when he tells her that he cannot marry her, she is devastated. What follows is a story of love, loss, and learning to value family over ambition.
At the beginning of the story, Joanna Dicson is a sweet, but naive young woman in love with James Douglas. She believes that James’ love means he will marry her, even though they come from two vastly different social statuses. As reality comes crashing down around her, she learns to stand on her own, growing a backbone and dignity that refuses to settle for anything less than James’ wife (not his leman!).
James is egotistical and ambitious — not a healthy combination when it means shoving aside those that have loved you and stood by you for an untold number of years. His treatment of Joanna in the first half of the novella was absolutely appalling, to the point where I believed that he didn’t deserve someone like Joanna. He eventually saw the error of his actions and begins to court Joanna properly, but it took many months to get to that point.
Both of these characters were immature at the beginning of this novella and the main push of the character development is the journey that changes them into more mature adults ready to face the future together. A good afternoon read, especially if you enjoy stories where you’re not certain if the couple will actually get together and the hero must do some serious groveling at the heroine’s feet to make up for his earlier transgressions.