I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
After his father was betrayed, Niall and his two younger brothers were spirited away and split up to preserve the Kincaid Laird bloodline. Seventeen years later, Niall seems to be the only surviving one and has come home to take back what is rightfully his.
Elspeth's been saved by the mysterious mercenary three times and each encounter only adds fuel to her attraction. However, her clan is relying on her to make an advantageous marriage to protect them against another clan and a lonely mercenary won't do.
Niall and Elspeth both try to deny their growing feelings but neither can give the other one up. They each want to do right by their clan but following their hearts will be dangerous.
The first in a new series by a debut author, the prologue grips you right away as a delicious blend of danger and vengeance is relayed. The set-up of Niall coming back home to avenge his family and then falling in love with his enemy's daughter, who doesn't know his true identity, creates an enthralling tale. Unfortunately, I felt the attraction was rushed between our leads and it left me with a feeling of insta-lust.
Our beginning introduction of Elspeth has many scenarios that combine together to give a very shiny heart of gold persona; she's the woman you want to say something bad about, because her goodness is slightly annoying, but she's just too darn sweet to do it. Her inner battle over feeling like she was betraying her clan with her attraction to Niall had depth and felt real. Niall captured my attention right away with his inner turmoil and secrecy to take his lands back but when he meets Elspeth, he slowly becomes all about his lust and attraction for her. His feelings were excessive, that he would suddenly become so wrapped up in this woman, who he barely knows, when for seventeen years he has been preparing for his vengeance. I understand and like romance but wanted a more natural progression of feelings, with more time and interactions, for the torment of it all too really shine through.
"I tried to forget you," she whispered against his lips, her hands touching the bare skin of his torso.
"I tried to let you forget me, but I cannot."
A lot of the story was devoted to Elspeth and Niall wanting each other and then saying they felt guilty because of their commitments, over half of the story is their back and forth. I don't consider this a slow read, per say, but this did make the story feel like it had some repetitiveness. Elspeth doesn't learn of Niall's true identity until the last 20% of the book and then it is glossed over pretty quickly, she forgives him in a day. Some of the lust, guilt, rinse and repeat should have been cut for the juicy betrayal/how do they live together now drama this scenario could have produced.
Secondary characters did a pretty good job of filling out the story with Deargh, Niall's clansman who spirited him away, Elspeth's half sisters popping in and out, and Magnus, a childhood friend of Elspeth. Bridget was Elspeth's step-mother and started off a Cruella de Vil and then contrary to a few hints (or what I perceived as hints) she does a 180. Now, if I'm right about the hints, it's misdirection by the author for future shock but since it wasn't cleared up in this story, it left the character feeling very confusing and forced. This does take place in Scotland in the 1300s but other than a couple mentions of a kilt, swords, and castle, I can't say I felt completely transported to the time.
As I mentioned, this is a debut book and as such, it is pretty strong. The author's writing style is highly readable and her story and character ideas are engaging. I just personally felt the relationship was rushed and some inta-lust was at play. The overall tone also was pretty gentle, there are a couple sex scenes but they did have a tendency to feel dropped in. If you're looking for an amiable read and wanting to give a new author a try, then this would be a good choice.