Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-246993-9
Historical Romance, 2017
If you think that you have read everything there is about historical romances set in Scotland, Gayle Callen’s Love with a Scottish Outlaw won’t change your opinion anytime soon. This is a pretty transparent transplanting of the story of Robin Hood to the Highlands, however, and it’s obvious whom our hero Duncan Carlyle and heroine Catriona Duff are based on.
Duncan is the laird of a broken clan. He had a horrible childhood thanks to a psychotic mother and a father who neglected to step in for far too long, and he inherited a land of oppressed folks who are systematically indentured and sold off as pretty much slaves abroad by the unscrupulous sheriff and the noblemen he works for. Now, he and his merry men (and women, of course) live in caves, in hiding from the so-called law even as Duncan and his men do that vigilante rob-the-rich feed-the-poor thing. Then, one day, Duncan comes across a wounded woman who claims to have no recollection of her name or her past. He recognizes her at once: she is the daughter of the vile nobleman who was behind the cruelty inflicted on his people. While he’s not someone to ignore a wounded woman in distress, he also has another motivation to take her under the care of his people: he will show her father what it feels like to be missing a child, and also, if this woman is telling the truth and has amnesia, this is a chance to show her the true extent of her father’s atrocities, and maybe convert her to his cause.
As you can probably predict, “Catherine” soon charms him and his people with her caring and understanding ways. She goes around helping those in need, showing sympathy and concern for the kids he rescue from the sheriff’s clutches, and eventually even become one of his staunchest allies. But what will happen when she regains her memory?
This story has issues, of course. Duncan’s motivations to keep Catriona without telling his people of her real identity are all over the place, seeming to change depending on the day of the week or his mood, and this can be a head scratcher because he is actually putting his people and his cause at great risk by bringing the enemy’s daughter into their midst. Sure, he may tell her not to leave the cave so that she won’t pinpoint their location, but there is no way of keeping her from discovering what they do and how they do what they do. She talks and charms her way through his people – she could be learning secrets and such that could jeopardize all of them should she turn out to be a spy like he initially suspected.
Also, Catriona’s transformation from a young sheltered lady into a hands-on expert on psychology, childcare, and more is a little too easy and smooth to be believable. In many ways, she fits the “capable everywoman who wins the wounded hero’s heart” archetype, while he is, of course, the tortured hero with a heart of gold.
Overlooking these two issues, however, is easy as Duncan and Catriona are two excellent examples of well-matched, well-suited hero and heroine who communicate so well that the building trust and friendship between them is very apparent. Both are very well aware characters that deftly avoid big misunderstanding drama – even there is no profession of love from him, for example, Catriona doesn’t jump to insane conclusions about his motives and feelings for her. When she remembers who she is, her reaction is very believable. Oh, she is angry, but at the same time, she also realizes that there is more to the situation than her wounded feelings. She knows what he is doing and why he is doing what he did, and she will make a decision about what she would do about him accordingly. There are no overemotional antics from both she and Duncan, and therefore, I believe their happy ending because they are well suited and their emotions feel real and solid.
In fact, the last few chapters have me feeling a lump in my throat, and it’s not every day that a book does that to me. Also, there are some wound soul kiddies running around here, but they are neither creepy overly precocious placeholders for the author nor irritating matchmaking plot devices.
Indeed, the author must be commended for not including secondary characters that feel too familiar and derivative here. A lot about this story will be familiar to readers who have read enough Highland romances, but the way the author presents the romance and everything else in a wonderfully sane, romantic, and emotional platter makes Love with a Scottish Outlaw feel fresh and even magical. This one gets a well-deserved four oogies.