Highlander Betrayed (Guardians of the Targe #1)
Hidden deep in the rugged Scottish Highlands lies the Highland Targe, an ancient relic guarded for centuries by clan MacAlpin. It is said the Targe can shield the heart of the Highlands from invaders and now, as part of his plan to crush the Scottish rebellion, the English king wants the Targe for himself...
Rowan MacGregor, orphaned niece to the chief of the MacAlpins and the rock her family depends upon, is worried. With the dwindling health of her aunt, the Guardian of the Targe, the protections that have kept the clan safe and prosperous are fading, and the new Guardian, one of her cousins, has yet to be chosen. Rowan wants nothing more than to see the clan protected again, but when it seems that will never happen, she despairs—even when a handsome and charming stranger comes to her aid.
Nicholas fitz Hugh is not what he seems. Half-English, half-Scottish, he turned his back on his Scottish heritage early in his life, giving his loyalty to England instead. Now he is a talented and cunning spy charged with finding and stealing the Highland Targe for his king.
But when Nicholas finds himself falling for the bonny Rowan and wanting to protect the family she holds so dear, he is forced to choose between his king’s will and his own: Will he betray his king and his mission? Or will he turn his back on the woman he has come to love?
As a great lover of history and romance fiction, I am always happy to try a new historical romance writer, and being a Scottish descendant I am of course partial to any story set in the highlands. This new series is set deep in the highlands and involves a small bit of the magic that runs through all Scottish blood and the story didn’t let me down. Ms. Wittig is a new author to me and I was thrilled to read her story of love, ambition, and danger. Though I haven’t read her before I will definitely be reading her future books in this series and others that might come after.
Highlander Betrayed begins with Nicholas, King Edward’s favorite spy getting the mission of his life: return to his homeland in the highlands and discover the secret of the protections provided by the Highland Targe. More than willing to give his all for the king, Nicholas sets off immediately, never knowing that his future will forever change and so will he. When he tracks all the whispers to the MacAlpin clan deep in the highlands, he and his partner arrive at a most inopportune moment, or a great time depending on perspective. Rowan MacGregor, niece to the clan chief, is outside the curtain walls trying to reign in her wayward cousin when a freak accident puts them both in lethal danger. Driven by some unknown force, Nicholas runs to their rescue and is taken into the clan, albeit reluctantly, and begins to learn more about them all and specifically the woman who has grabbed his attention and just won’t let him go. But when his true mission comes to light, will Rowan or any of Clan MacAlpin be able to recover and trust him again.
As their feelings deepen and their lives are changed irrevocably, Rowan and Nicholas must come together, knocking down all the walls between them, to master the powers of the targe and protect the clan—and ultimately the highlands—from Nicholas’s former partner who is bent on revenge and doesn’t care who he has to dispose of to rise in the favor of the king. There is a great underlying plot of course, one that pits cousin against cousin and causes serious strife between loved ones as Rowan’s true destiny comes to light. Though their feelings run true, perilously close to love already, Nicholas is determined to do whatever it takes to earn Rowan’s trust again, even if it means he may have to risk his own life to protect her and the lives of her family. But will they be able to overcome the challenges in time or will King Edward’s plot to bring down the highlands succeed?
Rowan and Nicholas were fascinating characters. Nicholas obviously comes into the story with a serious chip on his shoulder, unloved by either of his parents and essentially left alone in the world to fend for himself from a very young age. He has let his ambition lead him all his life, perhaps onto the darkest of paths; one his own conscience will not let him continue on forever. When he is confronted with the true strength of will and character to be found in the peoples of the highlands, he begins to understand the mistakes he has made and that his life surely needs to change. Bringing about this change in Nicholas, though unintentionally, Rowan is in her own right a broken and deeply flawed character. She has blocked the most important memories of her childhood, fighting her own nature all her life so she can maintain her calm center. But as they say still waters run deep, and when she is forced to confront her past and her future, those waters become the rushing river leading to a thousand foot waterfall. The magic in her is awesome to get to see, though I would have liked more of it, and when Nicholas figures out how to tap that power, the passion between them becomes even greater.
Wittig is a very talented author, showing us the growth of feelings and the emotional issues that couples work through, even as she takes us on a political and magical journey through Scotland’s rocky past. Nicholas and Rowan were set up from the beginning to fail, only overcoming the odds due to their own stubbornness and belief that their love is the most important thing for them and their clan. Though Nicholas takes a while to come back to his true nature he is, in the end, a real highlander, with all the strength and resolve you could hope to find in such a warrior. Rowan is the true essence of Scotland, carrying the secret magic that so many sought to steal or destroy inside her practical soul. She uses everything in her—her new power, her brains, and her love of Nicholas and her people—to meet any challenge and come out on top. Though the love is apparent, being set in the 14th century, Highlander Betrayed is written with a more subtle passion between the H/H than some are used to, but it in no way detracts from the emotional depth or steam in the story. With stolen kisses and caresses, Nicholas and Rowan let their passion flow and it is very well written, leaving you feeling you were right there experiencing their love. I am looking forward to finding out what comes next and seeing how the MacAlpin Clan beats the pants off Edward.