My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
I’ve gradually come to appreciate Victoria Robert’s writing, so it was no surprise that I enjoyed book 3 of Bad Boys of the Highlands, To Wed a Wicked Highlander! Love her light, fun writing style with entertaining dialogues and characters. I did have a wee bit trouble about remembering Alexander or Alex because I had just finished, book 2, X Marks the Scot and was hoping for James’s book who was featured in both book 1, Temptation in a Kilt and book 2.
It took me a while to remember that Alex is Rosalia’s (h of book 1) cousin. He helped the H, Ciaran, the MacGregor laird, in rescuing Rosalia from the villain, the Earl of Argyll’s clutches. That one was rather mediocre for me story-wise. It was book 2 that took me by complete surprise! Can’t explain how much I enjoyed that, and by far, my most favorite of the series. This was Ciaran’s younger brother, Declan’s book. The h was Argyll’s younger half-sister, the beautiful healer, Liadain, for whom Declan the rake falls hard. Even when they’re forced to marry because of King James’s machinations, I knew they’d find love as their attraction was very much palpable. James about whom I was talking earlier, is a childhood friend of Rosalia and a thorn on Ciaran’s arse who is jealous of this friendship as James is a charmer.
Book 3 can be read as a standalone, as the setting and the characters are entirely new. Even though Alex was in book 1, his was a small enough role. But we do get a revisit from Ciaran and Rosalia in the later parts, who is here to visit Rosalia’s seanmhair, or grandmother, Alex’s aunt Iseabail.
Alex MacDonnell met Sybella MacKenzie about 5 years ago after an incident that was followed by a secret and forbidden kiss on Alex’s insistence. Both clans are mortal enemies and have been fighting with each-other for long. But, Alex has never been able to forget the sprightly girl who was already showing the signs of blonde beauty even at that young age.
At present, Alex’s father, the Laird has passed away some weeks ago. Alex’s mother has been dead for a long time and now, he’s missing his father greatly. The responsibilities of a laird are already upon him, him being the only son and heir. Alex always knew he has to fulfill this and yet, the suddenness of his responsibilities is a bit suffocating. But he’s trying is best, ordering some much needed changes i.e. in the army, making his childhood friend, John as the new head, while giving the old man Donald his long awaited rest and settlement.
Now, Alex’s longtime mistress (and soon to be ex), as I assumed, was Donald’s daughter, Doireann. Before she leaves, she tries for the last time to coax him into marrying her. Not that I found any fault at her wishing for a union but Alex is set on not marrying her since... well, she’s not a lady (and later we learn that she’s been mistress to other men even as she was with Alex). He claims that he never promised her anything, so he can’t marry her. The girl understands and they have that parting shag before leaving Glengarry. Well, TBH, this did make me a little unhappy. One, I didn’t think the girl was one of those evil-type mistresses and even though Alex later claims that this was her way of ‘trapping him into marriage’, I didn’t agree with his sentiments. Two, I don’t like reading descriptive sex scenes between the OW and the H.
Anyway, that was the last of Doireann in the story. She’s mentioned in Alex’s musing a few times but that’s all. My dread that she’ll be back as a trouble for Alex (as was Ciaran’s b!tchy ex-mistress in his book) didn’t happen.
Even though he won’t marry that girl, Alex is going to have to marry. Of course, he needs his heir. His aunt Iseabail, who is not well in the head, keeps reminding him that he needs to do this duty to the clan by producing one and soon. Alex has an invitation from the MacKenzie laird Kenneth, Sybella’s father, for a deal. Apparently Kenneth wants to end the bloody feud between the clans by giving Sybella’s hand in marriage. Alex’s clan will also get a big dowry, among other things. Though Alex tries to convince himself that it was for the clan that he’s marrying his enemy’s daughter, but on the inside, he’s remembering Sybella, expecting that she’s grown into a great beauty by now. Alex can’t wait to meet his fiancée!!
Sybella, on the other hand, has grown into a beauty alright but she’s also a tom boy-ish type. She can’t cook, clean or sew even if her life depends on it! We find her trying the sewing, as her cousin’s wife Mary keeps showing her, but all Sybella wants is to go out to roam the hills and the forests. She likes being outside, riding a horse, feeling breathless, bating in the sun. Who stays closeted indoors?! Not Sybella! But her life of freedom was coming to an end as she soon learns from her father. Kenneth has a plan and he makes Sybella listen to it, then getting her consent that she’ll do exactly what he tells her. More accurately, orders her to do. Already he has worn down his son, Colin, Sybella’s older brother, to help with this. But Sybella has to play the biggest part in this. She’ll marry The MacDonnell and steal a seer’s stone of sort. This seer’s stone originally belonged to the MacKenzies but the MacDonnells stole it quite a while ago. Kenneth wants it so that their secret seer (Sybella didn’t even know one exists in her clan!) can foretell if he’s plan is going to be successful or not. And Kenneth wants the MacKenzies destroyed, along with his other enemies such as the MacLeods. He’s a very ambitious and greedy man, nothing will come between the Power he wants over the Highlands; even if it means sacrificing his own daughter.
Presently, even Colin doesn’t know the depth of this cunning plan, let alone Sybella. She only knows she has to gain Alex’s trust after they marry and then, find a way to steal the stone and get it back to her clan. I wanted to kick both her father and Colin, who also convinces Sybella that this is for the best. Giving her such a dangerous job, while they sit back and watch from their home! Such cowards!! You can already guess, the amount of distrust the both clans harbor for each-other, if Sybella gets caught... *SMH*
Moving on, Sybella does accept the marriage, not only because she wanted to ‘help her clan’ but also, of course, she has been daydreaming about that kiss in private. Seeing Alex when they arrive at Glengarry was another shock. For Alex too. Both are not only attracted to each-other, but Alex begins anticipating his wedding night pronto!
But, the wedding night is a... erm, disaster; mainly due to the fact that Sybella had no one to talk about it and her cousin’s wife, Mary the ninny, gave her some ‘directions’ that made me roll my eyes. Couldn’t help laughing, even as I was feeling for Sybella, embarrassed by what she does because this is what Mary told her. Oh lord! Lol Alex is dumbfounded, unhappy. Even though the marriage is consummated, he thinks his wife doesn’t want him, or the sex, and decides to sleep alone after that. Like that’s going to help the matter! Even when his aunt begins reminding him that he needs an heir and ASAP, Alex is undecided about it. At night, he’d go horny and think of Sybella, then he’d think how shagging his ex-mistress was convenient as she was always welcoming him anywhere he wanted it to be! Bah, Alex!!! I was like, puhleez make some move to woo your wife!
Later though, the truth is out. Alex talks to Sybella about that night and laughs his a$$ off when she confesses what Mary had told her. Then things begin getting normal for them. Both have an easy companionship, if not the hot sex at night. Sybella thinks she can be happy here, if only she could get on over with this stone business. Better yet, could forget about it entirely.
Sybella begins searching in places but without any result. In between, a few months pass by and Alex becomes more intimate with her, even begins trusting her a little. Sybella discovers that he’s not a terrible man himself. But, to mar her enjoyment, her father sends words through Colin that she needs to do it soon, in a couple of weeks max. I could feel the poor girl’s indecision. She wanted to do the right thing and in order to do that, she needed to choose a side as there was no middle ground for her here. But how can she take a side? She loves her own clan. But she is also falling in love with her husband each day, and choosing his side is something she’s expected to do. She wants to do, in fact. So Sybella decides that she’ll retrieve the stone (I didn’t see how since she had no idea where it was and no plan to speak of), send it to her father in the hopes that he’ll let her be in peace afterwards. Obviously, she was too naïve to think her father would let her get away so easily! From Colin, Sybella gets an idea of how the stone looks like. Then she figures out where the stone is hidden! Now she only needs to find a stone to replace that one…
At that point, Ciaran and Rosalia come to Glengarry to visit Iseabail. I liked their easy banters, and meeting their newest addition to the family, Lachlan, Ciaran’s heir. Iseabail is so happy to see her granddaughter, also her only great-grandson. Sybella welcomes them, and soon friends with Rosalia. She loves watching Lachlan, seeing Ciaran and Rosalia having that loving bond she so craves from her husband but more and more, she’s scared that she might not achieve it in the end. I say, her worries were quite valid. Just how much, we get to see soon enough as things turn frantic.
Alex read a letter from his father right after he died, where the matter of this stone was mentioned. Since his father never explained this in his lifetime, Alex became confused. Then, he asks Aunt Iseabail. She, in her crazy monologues, confuses him even more. When, later on, Iseabail begins feeling better because of the way Rosalia’s visit was having some good influence on her, she also begins remembering about the stone. Alex learns what this stone means and why it’s needed to be kept guarded. The only problem is, he has no idea where the stone is; also the fact that his wife too is looking for it so send to her clan!
Two back to back attempts are made on Sybella’s life. Alex gets anxious. When, finally, a man is caught and held, he confesses to be working for the MacLeod. Alex now wants satisfaction from the MacLeod for sending men to kill his wife. Yah, I could see he was beginning to care for Syballa, though he was often not good at demonstrating it. After a discussion with Ciaran, Alex decides to talk to Kenneth about this and what’s to be done about the MacLeod as he’s also Kenneth’s enemy.
Sybella was curious to see the man who would want to kill her. And when she does, she’s stunned to find it’s someone works for her father! The man, bruised and bloody as he was from... well, he was being tortured for information, confesses about Kenneth’s plan; his thirsts for the stone and to destroy not only the MacLeods but also Alex and his clan. Sybella is so scared now, desperate to find the stone and stop her father. She can’t let anything happen to Alex, who was already in Kintail, meeting with Kenneth and planning an attack on the MacLeods. Sybella’s father already has set his evil plan in motion, persuading Alex to take action and set out for Lewis. Alex was immature enough to trust the man, his only thought on revenge.
When Sybella learns of this treachery, she’s force to make decisions. Two most important ones- one, to support Alex, to try and make him understand so that he doesn’t leave for Lewis. Two, that she won’t ever handover the stone to her father. After Alex’s return, one night, she takes the initiative to chisel out the rock from its place (I did roll my eyes, it was midnight and she was hammering away on a rocky surface inside the castle... I’m not sure how she wouldn’t have been caught anyway!). Sybella was being followed by John, who had already seen her loitering about in places she shouldn’t be, such as the dungeon, and duly reported it to Alex. Alex asked him to keep an eye on her. This time, she’s caught while throwing the stone in the loch flowing next to the castle. She confesses to John about knowing everything and I applauded her for it, that she didn’t act the dumb blonde and try to weasel her way out.
Next when John reports it to Alex, he’s furious. So much so that he judges her without giving her a chance to explain. That night he shags her like some ho. The next day he humiliates her by calling her a ‘MacKenzie whore’ in broad daylight! That was SO idiotic! Ugh!! And made Alex double the douche in my eyes. I wanted to kick him so hard... well, let’s just move on (no point in hearing my muttering curses) because a heartbroken Sybella by then has left, riding out to her father’s house, back to her own clan. The only place she knew she’d be welcome since she could see that Glengarry will never be her home.
Or so she thought, hoped... expected even. But oh how wrong she was! Not only her father doesn’t believe that she threw the stone in the loch but also, is angry and decides to lock her up in the dark, dirty dungeon of his keep. No one was aware of it but a few soldiers, who could do nothing but to obey the order. I was agape in horror and WOW, so mad at that SOB. How could he do this to his own daughter? Then again, he had no conscience to speak of and Colin was his heir as far as it was concerned. Sybella held no importance for him! I felt for her. Two such blows one after the other. :(
Then things start moving fast, incidents that I started enjoying a lot. John talks to Alex and is exasperated by his rash judgment. Yah, I was too. Even though he rides out immediately after finding out what an a$$ he was, I just shook my head and moved on because Alex was like that throughout; making decisions and handing out judgments in anger, which didn’t make him much of a laird in my eyes. Not a cool, clear headed one anyway. I wanted to see him grovelling his heart out for the way he treated Sybella. Unfortunately, there was none and I was really disappointed, for without that, he didn’t redeem himself much in my eyes. I ended the book while contemplating on who will be getting the next installment. There was no definite pointer on that regard. Will it be James? Or Colin (I have a feeling he’d get his own book...)? Let’s see, shall we? 4 stars.
This ARC was provided to me by Sourcebooks Casablanca via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.