My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
I’m really enjoying Kerrigan’s dark historical romance series, The Victorian Rebels, and The Highlander is the recently published third installment of the series. I was really anticipating it because I thought from the previous installments that the H and h of this series are going to be perfect for one-another. After reading the story, I’m not really sure my wish came true.
Note that Victorian Rebels has NO ties to any of the author’s previous series whatsoever. This series has no paranormal or time travel elements in it, just a few Victorian-era bad boys of the underworld getting their HEAs with women who bring them down to their knees, quite literally. More than once I’m happy to add. ;) These people are deadly and will do anything to survive.
In book 1, The Highwayman, we were introduced to the King of the London underworld, Dorian Blackwell and his band of misfits. Dorian is actually Dougan MacKenzie, the bastard son of the cruel and lecherous Hamish MacKenzie, now deceased Laird of MacKenzies. His darkness has seeped into all of his sons, be it legitimate or not (we meet some of them in this series). The only difference was Dougan/Dorian wanted to fight it for the love of his life, Farah. Their story had a tragic beginning that started as young love kept apart for almost 20 years. They both thought all hope were lost for them until they found each-other again. Dougan was imprisoned for murder at the tender age of 12, which he committed to save Farah from being abused. His life in prison was a hell no one would want to wish upon another human being. However, he and a few of his rebellious friends survived that hell, came out deadlier than ever. They wanted revenge for what was done to them, they wanted to rule the underworld but most of all, Dorian wanted to find his “fairy” who he knew was still alive. He knew her to be his soulmate. Now all he wanted was to find the peace that eluded him forever. And no one but Farah will do. Have to say theirs was a treacherous journey.
The story was intense, with some hot, hot sex scenes. Dorian/Dougan was crazy possessive, often grumpy and Farah was his equal match with a mixture of beguiling innocence and a strong personality. You just know she’s the one who can handle a volatile man like Dorian; the one to also transform his dreary world into something much, much better—which she does by the end of the story.
Book 2, The Hunter tells us the story of Dorian’s right-hand man, the “silent” assassin, Christopher Argent, someone who also survived the hell of a prison. Theirs wasn’t an instant bonding, one only has to read their stories to find out why. But now that the bond has formed, Dorian and Christopher would do anything for each-other. So far, Christopher has survived hell, and done things more hellish that anyone can possibly imagine… well, can you imagine the life of an assassin? We get bits and pieces of his past, things he’d done from his musings, nothing to make you sick but enough to make you dizzy. In all his life, Christopher knew he’d never have what you call a ‘normal’ life. It just wasn’t possible. Love wasn’t something he ever known since his mother died. What he never anticipated was that he’d be brought down by one of his “assignments” in such a way that’d leave a seasoned killer like him open, vulnerable, wanting for love and affection. But that’s what happens when he was assigned to kill the latest darling of London’s Operas, Mille LeCour. They met, and the attraction was instant. Millie was unaware of her fate, while Christopher was left reeling from his feelings. He isn’t supposed to feel anything for his targets. His training in Kung Fu gave him enough leverage to keep himself apart from what he was about to do... And to whom. However, this case was so different every way that he failed, twice, for the first time in his life to take a life. Because, every time he saw her face, he simply couldn’t do it. Once aware of what was going on, Millie struck a bargain with Christopher. It was apparent her life was in danger, and there was no better bodyguard than an assassin himself who wanted to protect her now, in exchange of one thing. Her, in his bed. Oh boy!!
I really enjoyed the dynamics of Mille and Christopher’s complex relationship, and the story itself of course. By then, we were aware more about the H and h of book 3, The Highlander. Dougan/Dorian and Farah were regular visitors in book 2, where we heard of Dougan’s eldest brother, the legitimate heir of Hamish MacKenzie, Liam. They didn’t know each-other well, circumstances as it were but now both wanted to close the gulf and reunite.
Liam was never introduced but only by mention. We also meet Philomena, a Viscountess who was being tortured and abused by her a$$Hole of a husband, always taunting her for being “plump and plain”, among other things. In the end, it had seemed Dorian and Christopher had saved her from that hell. But the beginning of book 3 proves me wrong. I had also thought the husband was killed by Christopher. Would that we were so lucky! The Highlander begins, as with the other installments, with the dark narratives of the dirty deeds of Hamish MacKenzie, as seen by Liam while growing up. Things that’d make anyone cringe; from rapes and perverted sexual acts to murders, Hamish MacKenzie had done it all. Hell, he even tried his best to train his sons, legit or illegitimate alike, to be exactly like him. However, his sons—both the heir Liam and Gavin, his second legitimate son from second marriage— had resented him. There are reasons aplenty, the first and foremost was the way their father treated their mothers... or his numerous mistresses. Just like dirt. Used and discarded without a second thought.
Hamish died alone and abandoned, when Liam was fighting in the war, earning his moniker the Demon Highlander for being so adept in completing his assignments with an uncanny ability. He did anything necessary to do the deeds, be it murder or pillaging, on behalf of Scottish side of the British army. Liam married, but he never felt at home in his own home. He felt restless, horrible after seeing and experiencing things in his life that never made him feel at peace. When he went to war, he always hoped to die. He’d charge ahead like a lunatic, hoping that’ll be the end of his life. But however much he wanted it, that didn’t happen. Instead, he’d abandoned his family—his wife, and two children, a boy and a girl. The wife first cheated on him, then went mad and committed suicide. The children became subdued, lonely, desperately in need of some care and affection.
Now that he’d retired finally, Liam has realized his mistake. He couldn’t do anything for their mother but his children deserved better. Liam wants to settle down, turning his attention to not only to his children but also to the shabbily run estate and the MacKenzie brewery. Everything needed his immediate attention and Liam was doing his best. But Rhianna and Andrew were in desperate need of some polish and education that were sorely lacking since their mother died. His daughter is almost 17 and needed a coming out as the daughter of a Marquess (Liam is also an English Marquess), while his son is 13. Because he had no idea what to do, Liam wrote to his new sister-in-law, Farah, to help save him from this disaster.
At the same time, we’re horrified to find Philomena, or Mena in short, in a mental asylum, put there by her disgusting in laws, to eradicate her completely from the eyes of the society. They simply wanted her to vanish now that they’d gotten her hefty dowry and plundered through it. Mena was being abused and tortured “on request” of her equally disgusting husband, Viscount Benchley. It seemed every soul on the management was an example to utter evilness no one ever wants to experience. They were bought to drive Mena insane. She would’ve gone insane in a few days, if not months. Everything seemed bleak to her, not knowing who will ever save her. Mena didn’t think Farah, her new friend, even got her letter that she tried sending to get help before she was dragged down here.
When everything seemed lost, Mena was saved by Dorian and Christopher. She was so frightened and exhausted, that it seemed like a dream to her. She’s taken to Dorian’s manor house where Farah and Mille took care of her. But how long can Mena stay hidden away in Dorian’s home? The news of her rescue had surely reached her in laws by now, and they’re probably searching for her. Mena couldn’t even think of going back in that hell. The thought of it made her ill. When things seemed like that, Farah comes up with an idea after reading Liam’s letter. There could be no better place for Mena to hide away but in the remotest part of the Highlands until things are sorted out in London. For that, she needed a new identity and a reference which was also provided by Farah under a disguise.
Mena was seriously doubtful of this new “adventure”. She couldn’t lie even if her life depended on it, so she wasn’t sure if she’d even make it through the first day. However, before she knew it, she was on her way to the Highlands, a journey to the proverbial unknown. When Liam and Mena first met, she had no idea it was THE DEMON HIGHLANDER she’d heard of. She’d expected an elderly guy, with graying hair and paunch. Liam having older children made her picture him that way. But Liam had married in his early 20s, so he’s 40 or thereabouts. This confusion leads to some funny scenes where Liam and Mena both notice each-other’s…um, assets? :P Again, attraction was instant. Mena is tall and curvy, with, uh, bountiful... Well, she was well-endowed on the chest area and it showed. On the other hand, Liam was tall, big and muscular wearing a kilt. ;) He may have a few graying hair here and there, but he’s still got it.
After the initial misunderstanding, Mena gets to meet her pupils. Liam’s daughter Rhianna has no tactics whatsoever. She’d go ahead and blurt out things considered rude and definitely not ladylike, while Andrew, his son, was more of a typical teenager; always angry and rebellious. It may have been the fact that when his mother died he was too young. The reasons and what led to her death is explained later, but it was apparent that both children grew up rather abandoned and without much affection. Liam is now trying to make up for the lost time, but he himself is totally lost as to what to do with his offspring. He had not a clue about being an attentive father. But Farah came to the rescue and a governess was recruited posthaste.
The middle of the story was rather um,........ bland. It was more or less the everyday life of Mena in Liam’s castle, fighting her attraction to the Laird, while making good progress with the children, who, for the first time probably, were grateful for the attention, and affection, they were getting. It wasn’t a smooth sailing. Andrew was quite stubborn at first, but Mena had achieved it. She was also rather fending off the attentions of Liam’s younger half-brother, the handsome rake Gavin St. James AKA Lord Thorne. Now, Thorne was just... something else. I mean he wasn’t a bad person. Though womanizer, he wasn’t someone who liked ditching his responsibilities. He loved his niece and nephew to distraction; he cared for his own lands and holdings. He appeared to be someone who gave a vibe of ‘happy-go-lucky’, but I distinctly felt that that was just a façade. Knowing his father, I’m sure, like his all siblings, he had baggage he liked to hide. He was treated the same way his brothers were, saw his mother perish a broken woman. I would LOVE to read his story, and I hope his heroine is a prudish spinster who needs a bit of unraveling of passion if I might add. You’ll know why I say this if you read the book. ;)
Back to the story. At some point, something odd started happening in the Castle. Liam had always felt the shadows lurking and he hated it when his mind played tricks on him. Somehow Mena came to see and feel someone watching her too. No one was sure what it was. Was it a ghost of the past? Or was it something else? She was already at her wit’s end as to how to break this growing attraction between her and the laird, which he doubly returned. Mena was distant due to her abuse, and even though Liam had no idea about her past, he felt that something was wrong. He wanted to know, to punish whoever did this to her. But Mena kept him at bay, knowing this isn’t a good idea. He may even reject her if he ever learns of the truth. Liam wasn’t too sure of himself either. His own past with his father, the things he’d done as a soldier, the death of his wife... Everything jumbled up and made him unsure of himself. Unsure of this new feeling inside of him. As it was, both wanted it, but couldn’t bring themselves to step forward.
But those odd things and a few murder attempts on his life shook things up for them quite badly. The jolt they received from the appearance a “ghost” of Liam’s past to bring both together finally. When Mena’s life was endangered, Liam saves her from the evil... and they finally come to realize that holding off wouldn’t help them in any way. Unfortunately, after they become lovers, Mena is ever unsure of her circumstances. Liam was sure of his regard and what he wanted from her, but Mena didn’t know how to break the news that she’s still married to a horrendous man and that she’s running for her life. But for now, she was happy to be in the cocoon of happiness she’d found with a man she not only come to greatly admire, but maybe, even love.
But fate soon interrupts and Mena finds herself on the way to London when Liam decides to take his children and arrange Rhianna’s coming out. Of course, things don’t go so well for Mena when she finds herself immediately accosted by her husband on the train station. Someone has tipped then off and he now has his filthy paws on her again. Worse yet, Liam was shocked into silence.... then attacked by someone he’d come to trust with his life. Oh the mess! :o This was the part where the story finally took off. I was FINALLY feeling it as Dougan and Christopher come to the rescue. Liam was injured and he needed help in finding Mena, who had already been taken away by her devious husband, God knows where!
Overall, I enjoyed the story but it rather fall flat for me in the middle. I didn’t quite get the chemistry between Liam and Mena. I don’t know why. TBH, I had really high hopes for this book, but I got easily distracted by other books in between. Book 4, The Duke, would be of someone who has been introduced in this installment, though only by mention. He has been one of Liam’s acquaintances during the war and shares the same dark history with him, if not more. I’m rather intrigued, though I would’ve loved to read more about Thorne. Guess will have to wait and see. Rounding up on 4 stars.
PS: Don’t think the cover model portrays Mena correctly. I like the cover but she’s just too thin IMO. :/