Wednesday, December 16, 2015

ARC Review: The Striker (Highland Guard #10)


 Six years ago, Eoin "Striker” MacLean endured the greatest betrayal of his life, a disaster that led Robert the Bruce to a crushing defeat and left Eoin without the spirited woman who ruled his heart. Eoin knew that falling in love with his sworn enemy’s daughter was risky, dividing him between a possessive desire for beautiful Margaret MacDowell and an undying loyalty to his king. He promised Bruce that he would keep his fiery bride in the dark about the elite Highland Guard, but he could not predict the dire consequences his secret would have on his young marriage. Nor could he foresee how surrendering to temptation could cripple Bruce’s cause, forcing Eoin to blame his wife—and himself for trusting her.
Now, as Bruce prepares to challenge the resistance’s remaining strongholds, Eoin finally has his chance for revenge against the woman he once loved so fiercely and her entire clan. But when ferociously independent Margaret reveals a surprise that unites her with Eoin, neither of them will let their love go down without a fight.
Themes: historical, Scotland
Rating: 4.25 stars
Heat Rating: 
Finally we get another great story in the Highland Guard series.  I have been waiting it seems like forever for this next book and it definitely lives up to all the time I have spent waiting.  Monica has a way of dragging her readers into this world she has built that makes you feel like you are right there beside her characters, living their challenges and seeing their pain and heartbreak.  I have yet to read anything by Monica that I didn’t love and Striker’s story is no exception.  This story, like a previous one in the series, actually takes place in two different time periods with roughly a decade between, but the best part is that we get to watch Eoin and Margaret fall in love not just once, but twice.  Bringing together two enemies, a couple destined for disaster and seeing how they deal with their differences, once and for all, and tell the world they will be together despite those differences is beyond heartwarming.  If you haven’t read previous stories in this series you might miss a bit of the subtext here and there, but Monica’s skill is in making each story independent by providing the details you need and enticing you to go back and read the rest of the series.  I am sad to hear this series is ending after 2 more books, but it has been a great ride and I know whatever she comes up with next will also be a hit. 
Eoin and Maggie’s story is one that began almost a decade ago when two impetuous and unprepared young people fell into passion and young love.  They came together inexplicably in a time of war, even though their families were enemies and their political loyalties were split.  When the war really amps up, the true gap between them grows and Maggie is faced with ridicule and hate, as well as fear, in Eoin’s world.  Unwilling to face such adversity without support, she returns to her family and awaits her husband’s return, but when mistaken trust leads to tragedy their lives are forever torn apart.  Almost a decade later, Eoin returns to Maggie’s life and finds himself faced with a surprise of epic proportions as well as the heated desire that stills burns between them.  But can they forgive the betrayals and find a way to bridge the gap in order to have a future together or will their differences force them apart once and for all?
Margaret—Maggie to her friends—has had to find a way to be happy even though her heart still yearns for the husband she lost, even knowing that her betrayal was the reason he’s gone from her.  When she first gave into her desire for Eoin she thought she’d found her prince, the love of her life, and the man that would live at her side for all time.  But those youthful dreams are soon crushed under the weight of speculation, distrust, and hatred when she meets his family and clan.  Left alone in the midst of her enemies with no one on her side, Maggie tries her best to be a good wife, but the differences in her life become unbearable.  The way Maggie deals with her difficulties shows that she was an independent woman, well before her time, and IMO the real reason Eoin feel in love with her.  That fire and spunk serves her well when Eoin reappears and she is faced with the changes in the man she never stopped loving.  Working beside him on their mission we can see that she is no pushover, but when it comes to Eoin and her love for him she will push any boundary to get her HEA.  Definitely one of my favorite female characters in a while and one that shows that all you need to succeed and get your happy ending is the strength and bravery to go through, over, under or around whatever obstacles are thrown in your path. 
Eoin on the other hand is an arrogant ass through most of the story.  He’s so sure of his place in the world and demanding his recognition that he doesn’t see the damage he causes to those around him.  He is unable or unwilling to resist the pull to Maggie, though he does the right thing in a bad situation, making Maggie his wife to keep her from being overtly ostracized after their night of youthful passion.  Too bad that once he does that, he thinks that his responsibilities have been fulfilled.  It is obvious that he was NOT ready to be a husband, disregarding his wife’s wishes or fears for the most part, and leaving her to fend for herself with his family and clan.  Not to mention that he is flat our lying to her when he disappears on missions and into battle.  I appreciate the fact that he has his orders and cannot tell her the entire truth, but leaving her alone and surrounded by danger and derision is not a way for a husband to act.  The decade older Eoin wasn’t really much better, being a totally asshat when he uses Maggie to further his mission with a complete disregard for her feelings, even if he thought she had betrayed him so long ago.  Only after Eoin begins to come to terms with the mistakes he’s made in their relationship does the reader begin to see the promising side of Eoin showing that he really is a good man.  Thankfully in the end Eoin finds a way to accept that the past is over and move forward, forgiving both Maggie and himself for their mistakes and starting over with a clean slate. 
Overall, I have to say that I loved Striker’s story and it was a welcome addition to the series.  There were a LOT of tears in this story and the anguish was heartbreaking even just reading their sad story, but the love they have for one another keeps the sadness from overwhelming the characters and the readers in the end.  Eoin was a man that really needed to be brought down a peg or to, his arrogance leading to too many mistakes, but once he accepts that he’s just a man and needs the woman he loves by his side despite their differences, Eoin become the kind of man I would love to find for myself.  Maggie too is a bit brash in the beginning, coming from a family of males that has always spoiled her, but she quickly realizes that and tries to improve on her failings.  She learns that a single choice, even the simple mistake of speaking out of turn, can change worlds and cost lives, and that realization brings out the core of goodness and strength in her so she can develop into a truly great woman from the reckless girl she was.  The heat and intensity between these two is off the charts from the very beginning, even when they are simply looking at one another across the room they throw off enough heat for others to notice.   I thoroughly enjoyed seeing them find their way together and then back together as they fell in love with each other, first as youths and again as adults hardened by life.  Monica has struck gold once again and I cannot wait for the rest of the series. 

*eARC provided by publisher (via netgalley) for the purpose of an honest and unbiased review.  No compensation was provided.

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