The Highland Brooch

The wealthy, raven-haired Fiona Cartwright has powerful enemies. She has spurned too many suitors, among them the dangerous Lord Morney, who had tried to make her his mistress. To exact revenge on the “Snow Maiden,” Lord Morney offers the only man who has caught Fiona’s eye ten thousand pounds to court her and get their engagement announced in the gazettes. Then the proud, impoverished Highlander is free to abandon Fiona at the altar. For Wallace Frazer, the wager is impossible to refuse–even if it is distasteful. After all, it was Fiona’s father who had driven his people from their land, wringing every penny of the fortune she inherited from his clan’s suffering.

Of course, Wallace doesn’t anticipate Fiona’s eager embrace of both him and his culture–bagpipes, Gaelic, epic tales, and all. He doesn’t expect to fall in love with an Englishwoman. He certainly doesn’t expect that, having won his wager, he would want to marry Fiona. After all, she is the last person in the world that his people would accept as the wife of the Frazer of Frazer, head of their clan.

For her part, Fiona never planned to marry. She still bears scars from her father’s beatings–secret scars that prevent her from wearing the low-cut fashions of her day. But Wallace Frazer seems different from other men somehow. Gallant. Gentle. Brave. And ready to give her the family she had never known. When she learns–in the most humiliating way possible–that his courtship had been based on a wager, she almost breaks their engagement.

Perhaps the thing that piqued my interest most about The Highland Brooch is the fact that the protagonists are married by page 67 of a 222 page novel. How on earth was author Rebecca Danton going to maintain the tension between the hero and heroine for the rest of the book? This is certainly not the typical structure of a regency romance, in which the protagonists usually battle things out until the final chapter.

Here, Danton gives us different story: two decent people who love each other must overcome obstacles (both internal and external) before they can build the trust required for a stable, intimate relationship.

How can Fiona fully believe in her husband after learning that he only fell in love with her after taking a hurtful wager? How can Wallace tell her that not only did he marry her for love, but he also desperately needs her money to rescue his hungry people? What if it comes out that Wallace knew from the beginning that Fiona’s father was the one who stole the Frazer land? How will his clan react to an Englishwoman–especially this Englishwoman–when Wallace takes her home to the Highlands?

And all the time, the vengeful Lord Morney lurks in the background, stirring up discord.

I loved this book. Danton dexterously deals with some of the trust issues that a woman who has been abused might face. She creates a likable hero who nevertheless does a despicable thing–and then struggles to make amends. Wallace is as torn-up by his conflicting desires and responsibilities as Fiona is by her love and inevitable standing as an “outsider.”

Yes, there were moments that made me raise my eyebrows. I’m surprised that Fiona is unaware of the source of her money (but then, perhaps her solicitors wouldn’t bother to tell a woman). I’m more surprised that Wallace doesn’t ever ask about the scars on Fiona’s back, even though they are lovers. Lots of their problems could have been solved by a few deep conversations. Then again, by the time those conversations could take place, their mutual trust had been broken and Wallace filled with so many conflicting emotions that they are unable to make that kind of a connection.

As an added bonus, many of Danton’s secondary characters are well-drawn, with depth, complexity, and major character development.

In terms of “Hotness,” Danton is generally restrained in what she shows us about her protagonists’ love lives. However, it is obviously highly satisfactory for both, and there are several more explicit–but carefully described–sex scenes that are both tender and erotic. The “Character Chemistry” is strong, even though Fiona and Wallace come together so early in the book.

The Highland Broach is worth a look; I was absorbed from the first pages.

Warning: Although the central couple’s interactions in the bedroom are discreetely portrayed (hence the “Sexual” rating), there is a vengeance/abduction subplot and a child-abuse backstory that could potentially be disturbing to the sensitive reader.

My ratings:

Story Quality:
Character Chemistry: