An ill-fated elopement cost English-born governess Bernadette Kent her reputation, her fickle lover and any chance of a future match. She has nothing left to fear—not even the bitter, dangerously handsome Scot due to marry her young charge. Naive wallflower Avaline is terrified to wed Rabbie Mackenzie, but if he sends her home, she will be ruined. Bernadette's solution: convince Rabbie to get Avaline to cry off while ignoring her own traitorous attraction to him.
A forced engagement to an Englishwoman is a hard pill for any Scot to swallow. It's even worse when the fiancée in question is a delicate, foolish young miss unlike her spirited, quick-witted governess. Sparring with Bernadette brings passion and light back to Rabbie's life after the failed Jacobite uprising. His clan's future depends upon his match to another, but how can any Highlander forsake a love that stirs his heart and soul?
Themes: Historical, Scotland
Rating: 4 stars
The scandalous Scots are back in a big way. Julia London is one of my favorite historical authors and there is very little of her writing I have read that I didn’t fully enjoy every second of. This third novel in the Highland Grooms series reintroduced us to the second son of the couple from the first story, Rabbie Mackenzie, and he is a sad man in need of a little bit of a wildcat to bring him back to life. London’s skill with bringing tragic characters to life is undeniable and her characters are always interesting and the interactions between them are usually hot enough to burn the pages of the story to ash. If you have missed the two previous novels in this series you might miss a bit of the details and the greatness that is this family, but in the end each is a stand alone novel and the characters and bits of backstory we read is enough to keep each story awesome in its own right. I am wondering if this will end the series, and seriously hoping not, because I am looking forward to seeing Rabbie’s Sister, Cat, find her own hunk to make her fall in love, but if it is in fact the end, the series definitely went out on a high note.
Rabbie has been moping around his family home for a few years now, every since the failed Jacobite rebellion cost him his future and the life of the woman he loved. While he knows he has a duty to his family that cannot be escaped, he is reticent to give in to his parents’ desire to wed a young English girl that is forever quaking in her slippers at just the sight of him. When his young bride arrives, with her expected entourage, he is deeply surprised and appalled to meet her lady's maid, an outspoken, mouthy, and sinfully lovely young woman that hits all his hot buttons even as he thinks he hates her on first sight. Bernadette has come along with her young charge, given no choice but to serve as a lady’s maid who years before would have been one of her peers. A scandalous past has left her as damaged goods in the eyes of society, but she is wiling to work with what she has. As they are forced to spend more time together both Rabbie and Bernadette discover a deep and abiding truth, sometimes hate at first sight is really just love in disguise. But with so many obstacles in their way, Rabbie and Bernadette have to decide what they are truly willing to risk in order to get their happily ever afters.
Rabbie is the kind of character that is so annoying in the beginning you cannot imagine you will come to like or even love him, and really if we readers can’t love him how on earth could Bernadette come to love him? Well luckily for us, Rabbie finds a way to relate to Bernadette and is able to pull himself back from the precipice he has been dancing on in order to have a future. He fights hard for what he wants once he really sees she is worth any fight and that the love they share makes him a better man. I wanted to punch him a few times when he tried to “do the right thing” and continue with the plans to marry Avaline, but thankfully he pulled his head out of the bottle (and his butt) in time to see the wonderfully perfect woman that was right in front of him. Sexy, stubborn, arrogant, and ultimately sweet, Rabbie is the perfect example of a Scot of his time, and I loved getting to experience his heartbreak, growth, and rebirth in the love he had for Bernadette. Bernadette conversely, I loved from the very first moment she graced the page of this novel. She obviously has an independent streak, bravery, and a deep ability to give her heart and soul to those she loves. While she has made a few decisions in the past that she doesn’t necessarily regret, but that have led her in an unexpected direction in life, she lives with the consequences even though they are not all that great. I enjoyed seeing her stand up for her friend, as well as herself and Rabbie, once she is unable to hide her love for Rabbie anymore.
So in the end this scandalous Highland Groom was able to defeat the forces keeping him and his sweet English Rose apart and find a way to make her his wife. While Rabbie definitely started out Hard-hearted he found his way to peace and was able to open his heart not only to Bernadette, but her love and acceptance allowed him to open his heart to his family again and find a measure of happiness in his crazy family. Rabbie was a tortured hero, with a sordid and tragic past and a stubbornness to moving on that made him the ultimate challenge for the heroine Bernadette. Once Bernadette decided he was worth the risk—and all the trouble—she found a way to love him and force him to admit his love for her as well. The passion between these two began as antagonism and slowly developed from there to interest and a fiery passion that touched those around them and proved that love can come from the most unexpected of directions and certainly be a case of opposites attracting. I enjoyed getting to see Rabbie and Bernadette butt heads, fight with one another, and finally discover their mutual attraction was a special gift they could not neglect to take advantage of. I am hoping that Julia isn’t through with this amazing group of Highlanders just yet, but Hard-hearted Highlander is a wonderful read in its own right and I am looking forward to reading more. Packed with tears, drama, intrigue, and passion, Rabbie and Bernadette take us on an adventure over the Scottish moors, through the political dangers that effected so many lives during this era, and ultimately showed us that though these Scots are sometimes bigger than life, their very humanity is rooted in the most important traditions of any culture—family, community, and faith. Great job, Julia, a true work of art.
*ARC provided by author for the purpose of an honest and unbiased review. No compensation was provided.