My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Return to Clan Sinclair was a spinoff novella by Karen Ranney from her historical romance series, Clan Sinclair. I’ve read the previous 3 original installments and enjoyed them, so it was a pleasure for me to revisit the characters and the setting as a whole.
The original Clan Sinclair series talks about 3 siblings, Macrath, Mairi and Ceana. Orphaned quite young, Macrath had to take over his father’s printing business to take care of his younger sisters. He also, later, took in one of their distant cousins, also an orphan, Fenella, who grew up with them. She has always been welcomed and treated as another sister. Though book 1, The Devil of Clan Sinclair, is Macrath’s story and book 2, The Witch of Clan Sinclair, is Mairi’s, Ceana wasn’t a part of this series as a whole. She was seen or mentioned once or twice, already married to an Irish nobleman. Fenella got her HEA in book 2 as a secondary romance, with one of Mairi’s employees, pressman Alan.
Macrath, a self-made man, lost interest in his father’s printing venture a while later. Since then, he’s been into things that actually interests him, like inventing things, including ice-machines. His different successful business ventures also brought in the much needed financial help that the family desperately needed. Prior to that, he and his siblings were just getting by somehow. Macrath’s also a wonderful and caring elder brother as we see throughout his story. He arranged a season for Ceana and gave Mairi the freedom to be herself at that time when women were not welcomed to do anything ‘bold’ as per society’s dictates. Though he still was at the forefront of the press, Mairi was the backbone of The Edinburgh Gazette. She grew up watching her father and helping him in everything press related, and so, it became her life too. She was also the proverbial spinster, until she met the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, one Logan Harrison, who changes her life completely.
Macrath’s story has some link to this novella, so I’m going to recap a bit more. He was in love with this American heiress, Virginia. She was forced to marry some lord her by her rich, title-hungry father in order to nip their romance at the bud. Macrath, a ‘lowly Scotsman’, didn’t even stand a chance, though, by that time, he was rich enough to keep Virginia in style. The marriage absolutely broke Macrath’s heart. He was so adamant about making Virginia his own that he even bought this huge mansion in the Highlands called Drumvagen, and was working diligently to make it a home for them. After her marriage, Macrath retires there. He starts living largely as a recluse, only working on his latest inventions. When Virginia’s sickly husband perishes a couple of years ago, she hatches a plan to save her in-Laws from financial ruin; a plan that included using Macrath. It was so full of in-your-face deceit that I promptly lost all my respect for her. I didn’t care why she was doing it or how ‘noble’ her reasons were, IMO what she did for the better part of the story was plain wrong, especially to a man who still loved her! I failed to regain any liking for her unfortunately, even though she has been repeatedly painted as a paragon of virtue in all the later installments, including Return to Clan Sinclair, which is set at Drumvagen with Macrath’s family present.
Book 3, The Virgin of Clan Sinclair, was the story of Virginia's SIL from her first marriage and this novella has no direct connection to that one.
Since finishing the first 3 books, I’ve wondered why Ceana, the youngest of three Sinclair siblings, was never mentioned all that much. I gathered maybe she just wasn’t a part of the series planning. Just the ‘other married sister’; a forgettable character. Fortunately, Ms. Ranney gives us this novella that sheds some light on Ceana’s life. At first though, I thought it’s going to be a flashback. But it wasn’t. Return to Clan Sinclair takes place at least a decade or so later than Macrath’s story.
In this story, we find a harried Ceana escaping to Drumvagen, a place where she’s never been before. In fact, since her marriage to Peter, she moved to Ireland and hasn’t been back to visit any of her siblings, which surprised me TBH. Poor Peter has passed away some years ago and Ceana’s BILs are making her life a living hell. They’re smothering her by being overprotective. Moreover, they’re adamant that Ceana MUST remain a virtuous widow all her life. And this, Ceana, couldn’t take, including all these restrictions they were setting for her. The faraway mansion of her brother’s seemed liked the best place for Ceana to contemplate on her future, to try to figure out what she’s going to do next.
I loved seeing all of Macrath’s kids in this novella, who were babies or infants in the other installments; the eldest Alistair, then Fiona and Carlton. Alistair seems to be a copy of Macrath when he was that young, a fact Ceana zooms in on the moment she meets her niece and nephews. But it was because of the most restive and energetic, Carlton, that she first meets Bruce Preston... in all his manly glory. He was trying to save Carlton, again, who has just gotten himself into a scrape (again, if I might mention), by trying to sneak out of his room. Bruce, whose name Ceana didn’t know at that time, was coming in after a swim from the beach nearby. Yah, it was a rather... unforgettable introduction that had Ceana blushing like a virgin because of the way Bruce was looking at her, not to mention his, erm, manly glory. *heehee*
Later, a beautiful companionship forms between Ceana and Bruce, even though, at first, Ceana was a bit maddened by his bold looks and impertinent questions. But she couldn’t help but be intrigued either. She was definitely attracted to him, but it wasn’t just plain ol’ lust. She detected some sadness in Bruce that he liked to hide away. Likewise, Bruce fell for Ceana the moment they met and an interest formed, born of the urge to want to get to know her better. Everything about her if possible. I loved their banters because those were so full of meanings; sometimes innuendoes, while other times something much more heartfelt. But Bruce was yet to tell Ceana the real reason behind his presence at Drumvagen.
Bruce is an American detective whom Macrath hired to find a man whom anyone who read book 1, will recognize; Paul Henderson. Paul, who once was the secretary of Virginia’s first husband, came off as a mentally imbalanced guy. He formed this fixation over Virginia that lead to some disasters. At the end, I even questioned why we never got to learn what really happened to him. He was supposed to be bound to America but there was no solid update on that regard. In this story, I got much more than I bargained for when Paul returns to Scotland, apparently never having gotten over that deadly obsession, still hell-bent on making her his. It was crazy, but I never really knew why Paul was that obsessed, maybe because I wasn’t fond of her, who knows. Funnily enough, when I read about him at first, I thought Paul was going to be the heartbroken suitor who’d probably later have his own story to tell, which didn’t happen of course.
Now I’d like to get back to Bruce and Ceana’s story. That beautiful, heartfelt companionship soon transformed into something more even though both were reluctant to take a leap. I could understand that, since neither Ceana, nor Bruce knew where their relationship was heading. A swift affair to be forgotten when they return to their regular lives? Would this be something more? But most importantly, does she/he want it to be something ‘more’?
I have to say that the moment I saw these two together, I knew they belonged. They both clicked and wanted to move on to have a future together. Both were lonely souls, still grieving the loss of their loved ones. Whereas Ceana was still mourning Peter, Bruce had also lost his own family in the war. Bruce was mourning them too, even if it had been a long time. He’d been a lost soul ever since, never having thought he’d be whole again. Thus far, Bruce had buried himself into his work. But then, no one had tugged at his heartstrings or seems to understand his state of being the way Ceana does. For Ceana, Bruce just made her feel alive again after long years of mourning. She needed a breath of fresh air with someone who she can trust with hers and her daughters’ lives.
The whole affair, though happened in such a short span of time, worked for me much more than I expected. Generally, the novellas don’t always give me that sense of contentment a full-length novel does. The romance doesn’t always work for me; it either seems rushed, or I end up feeling no connection between the main characters. But in here, I saw the connection and felt how Ceana and Bruce were nurturing each-other’s souls, which made the whole read so wonderful (Paul’s shenanigans notwithstanding). In the end, I didn’t want the story to end. I wanted read more, to have a glance at their future together. I wished this was a full-length story, rather than a novella.
I don’t know correctly, but Return to Clan Sinclair probably is the last installment. Needless to say, I’m going to miss this series, and the fact that Mairi-Logan and Fenella-Alan were not featured and that I had no updates on their lives. :( But at least I got the answer to my what-happened-to-Paul question! 4.25 stars.
This ARC was provided to me by Avon Impulse via edelweiss which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.