A Steamy Scottish Historical Romance
A steamy plot rooted in Scottish history
From the first page of E. Elizabeth Watson’s A Highland Rogue to Ruin, you can tell that the author has done their homework. The dialogue and the setting feel authentic for the Scottish Highlands at the turn of the 16th century. Think Outlander vibes from the onset, and I was here for it. When I completed the story and moved to the Author’s Note, my suspicions were confirmed. Not only did Watson capture an authentic feel for the narrative and setting, the author actually based this story (and the first book in this series, Twelfth Knight’s Bride) on an historic feud between two clans: the MacDonalds of Sleat and the MacLeods of Dunvegan. Centuries ago, these two clans sought peace through a marriage of their kin; the condition being that the marriage would dissolve a year later if it did not produce an heir. When the bride was unable to bear a child within that time, she was returned in humiliation to her clan. Her kinsmen retaliated and a violent series of ambushes and raids occurred for years between the two clans.
A Highland Rogue to Ruin takes this backdrop and explores what might have happened if these two clans were given another chance at “The Great Peace.” The story occurs during a week-long celebration called the Lughnasadh Harvest Festival. It is a time for neighboring clans to put down their arms and find ways to join together: dancing, harvesting, horse racing, and negotiating trade agreements and truces.
The two main characters, Lady Brighde MacDonald and Lord Tormund MacLeod (or the “Demon of the Seas”), set their eyes on one another during the festival’s opening masquerade. She is dressed as an angel, he is dressed as a demon, and things get hot very quickly between them after some dancing and one sultry game of chess.
Yet they are both at the Lughnasadh festival for different reasons: Bridgde to taste freedom after years of boredom in her clan’s castle under her brother’s protective care and Tormund to kill that very same brother for murdering his older brother years before. Brighde’s sister and Tormund’s brother were the ill-fated couple of the failed marriage treaty between the two clans and, in this fictional account of the historical events, both were murdered by opposing sides. It takes little time for Brighde and Tormund to discover who the other is, and, surprisingly, they take the news of their lover being the enemy who killed their brother/sister pretty well. I suppose it is because, by that time, they are besotted with one another. Even though being caught could mean war between the two clans, they continue their affair in secret.
But, as all good “secret love” stories typically go, they are exposed as Brighde attempts to stop a fight between Tormund and her brother. Someone is trying to stir up trouble between the MacLeods and MacDonalds, and it isn’t the usual suspects. Brighde must convince her brother to trust Tormund so they can find their common enemy. Letters that Brighde found in her dead sister’s trunks — as well as her dying last words — point to a mystery that only can be solved if everyone puts down their swords and starts to listen. I see this as being one of Brighde’s major roles in the story: a peacemaker and the woman that both her brother and Tormund care for enough to rethink what the decades of violence between the clans have cost them.
“Brother, at some point, the fighting must cease. At some point, we must all start listening. Or else there will no longer be anyone standing on this bonny land.”
I did not fully grasp Brighde’s character, though. In the beginning, I was hyped for a sassy and brave Highland lass who was no mewling kitten. In the prologue, it says: “Her father had once said it was a shame she’s been born a woman, for she had a sharp mind and would have been hell to outwit on the battlefield.” Later, in a pivotal moment of the first few chapters of the book (the moment when Tormund and Brighde finally recognize one another as members of enemy clans), she dresses as a young lad and wins a dangerous horserace against Tormund and the rest of the Highland clan lords. From that point on, however, Brighde’s “girl power” goes a bit downhill. For the majority of the book, Tormund calls Brighde his “angel”. She is described as highly feminine, exquisitely beautiful, and gentle in her soul. Her mannerisms seem nervous (there is an ongoing quip in the book about her biting her lip when worried), and there are many passages where Brighde has tears in her eyes. Brighde even admits to Tormund, after he gives her a small dagger to help protect herself in case of an attack: “But Torm, I can nay even step on an ant without crying.” A far reach from Chapter 4’s Brighde who secretly donned pants and delivered all the tough Highland lords an “arse trouncing” as she raced across the finish line on her horse. As a reader, I wanted to see more confidence from Brigdhe throughout the book. She stands up to her brother and Tormund at almost every turn — and that’s not easy to do. I think Watson tries to reconcile Brigdhe’s gentility and her fierceness yet, in some parts of the narrative, I just was not convinced.
All in all, the romance between Tormund and Brighde is a spicy and satisfying one. The desire between them is intense, but the connection feels real. The “Demon of the Seas” falls under Bridghe’s spell and the Highland rogue façade is ruined, making way for Tormund and his clan to finally find peace. I enjoyed the happy ending and how the lovers complete one another.
The lass who’d trounced him in chess and made peace offerings and fit so perfectly in his arms. The lass who’d finally touched him and dragged him out of the shadows that had shackled him for so long, he’d forgotten what the sunshine felt like on his face. The lass who he’d sought to give freedom, who in turn had unchained his heart.
A Highland Rogue to Ruin is a steamy romance with a well-paced plot and enough swoon-worthy declarations of love in Scottish brogue to make for an enjoyable read.
Celeste is a woman who is unwavering about certain things in life; three of those being books, cats, and cold brew coffee. If she can enjoy all three at the same time, it’s going to be a good day. Her favorite genres are fantasy or sci-fi romance, historical romance, and historical fiction but every few books she likes to mix it up with contemporary fiction, a good psychological thriller, or an inspiring memoir. She has a busy schedule working full-time for an online university but she makes sure to unwind each day with stories, either by reading to her elementary school-aged daughter or tucking herself in bed with her Kindle or the latest book she picked up at a local book store.