My review contains spoilers and they're are mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Let me start by telling you that Highlander Claimed was awesome. I’m the newest fan of Juliette Miller, not only because of the sexy characters she created but also because of her extraordinarily beautiful writing. It’s just not the prose, but the description of Highlands and the way she drew out the feelings of the characters, despite this book being a first person narrative from the heroine, Roses. I had no doubt about Wilkie’s love for her. His no-questions-asked obsession and devotion for Roses was so palpable, poor Roses had no chance of denying him a thing (think of me grinning like a lunatic here :D). Wilkie was not a tortured, brooding hero and yet, WOW! The intensity of his feelings for Roses just consumed the whole book.
But that’s just the way I saw the book and glad to say that it worked for me because I LOVED it!!
Roses is an orphaned girl in the Ogilvie clan who never really knew what security is in her life. Her parents were her adoptive one, and her backstory before that is pretty vague. It’s said that she was found by them as a baby and the childless couple took her in, named her Roses (so uncommon and yet, a lovely name!) and loved her for as long as they lived. Roses’s life didn’t stay the same after that. The vile Ogilvie laird had his lecherous eyes on her ever since she was growing up (Ogilvie; I see the words ogre and vile here, not sure why but the laird was one hell of a skanky guy). He has several mistresses. Ogilvie doesn’t care about them much but his own pleasures. He even forced Roses’s adoptive mother to become his mistress after her father died. Roses knew what her fate would be, and so, she always kept her body in ragged boys’ clothes. She was living the life of a perpetual maid, and also, an apprentice to the clan healer. Yet, one day, she’s attacked by Ogilvie in his room when he found her alone. Roses somehow saves herself injuring Ogilvie, but not before he saw the tattoo on her back. She has always covered this tattoo, ever since some old seer woman told her parents that it’ll cause her trouble; that maybe even cause her to burn in stakes. Roses is scared of the revelation, but the vile Ogilvie sees something in it, even in his injured state. She takes the chance of his temporary inattention and runs.
Roses runs away because she knew what her fate would be otherwise. She hated to leave the healer woman, Ismay, who has been her closest friend among a clan where she has never felt at home; not once since her adoptive parents died. She contemplates a few places to go since she doesn’t really know anyone in that sense this whole wide world. Highlands can be a terrible place if you’re not well prepared and don’t know your way around, and so, Roses knows she has less choices left. Even when Ogilvie’s soldiers come looking for her, she is tracked down by one who was fortunately her friend too. Ritchie let’s her go. Two brothers, Ronan and Ritchie have never been fond of the laird and they tried their best to save Roses by teaching her knife and some basic sword skills. After the men left, Roses is on her own. For sometimes she tries to remember the discussion she’s heard from the laird and his soldiers. She knows Ogilvie is siding with the Campbells who are a foe to the current king Alexander. She also knows that the king is looking for his long lost and only child, whom he fathered with a mistress, to bequeath some really big fortune and lands. Roses only cares to find a clan that would take her in, and upon thinking (and as she fights with cold, exhaustion and hunger), she decides that Mackenzie clan, who is the closest to her at the moment, will have to do. At least for some stolen food, whatever it is. And so Roses sets off in that direction.
On her way, she ruminates about the information she’s heard of the Mackenzie brothers; Knox, the gruff laird, Kade, the youngest who is always armed to teeth. She also remembers Wilkie, the middle brother who is very popular with the women. Wilkie is said to be very beautiful and charming. Not that Roses cares, never really knowing the man... Hmm... Roses meanwhile, finds a cave to hide her meager belongings and to make a ladder. And when she finally climbs the walls of the Mackenzies at night, Roses finds a pear orchard full of pears. She takes whatever she can and then... well then, she comes across this lake while wondering and sees this naked man coming out of the water... Naked and ‘hellooo beautiful’ man to be exact! Roses is momentarily distracted by his god like beauty and forgets the fact that she’s actually thieving here. When she is back to her senses, Roses runs... but the man, a warrior she knows by now, is somehow clothed already and gives a chase after her. He chases her down to the cave but then the little the skirmish they have leaves them both injured. The man finally asks Roses to reveal herself, which she won’t. He then takes off her helmet forcefully and et voila!, loses his own senses by Roses’s beautiful sun-kissed golden hair and pale green eyes.
Oh, I knew Wilkie was a goner, but I still didn’t know how deep in sh*t he was. He just saw a vision of an angel, and he starts calling the girl Angel as well. It was apparent that both were more than taken with each-other. Roses can’t take her eyes off Wilkie’s beautiful physique, dark, braided hair and clear blue eyes. Then they both realize the depth of their injuries, especially Wilkie’s. He’s pretty badly hurt, and being a very efficient healer, Roses gets to work. She’s sad to see the extent of the injury her sword has caused to this man. In this state, Wilkie and Roses kiss, among other things. :p Anyway, the morning comes soon enough and Roses is resolved to inform his brothers about his conditions. She only hopes they don’t kill her later. At the Mackenzies, she finds that the people are getting ready to look for Wilkie. Upon Roses’s inquiry, she’s taken to the laird, Knox. Knox is a bit critical and brusque. He doesn’t like scandals, avoids them at all cost. He’s practical and so on. Knox hears Roses but doesn’t take any action on her. He and Kade, who is indeed always armed to teeth, take the men and asks Roses to show them the place. Inside the cave, amidst his feverish words, Wilkie tells them in so many words that he doesn’t want to let Roses go. Kade and Knox indulge in his feverish whims (as they took Roses to be one) and asks Roses to accompany them. Apparently, only her presence can make Wilkie calm, so there was no way they were going to let her go… at least for now.
At the Mackenzie keep, Roses meets Wilkie’s two sisters; eldest and poised, Ailie and more vivacious, Christie, the youngest. They welcome her open-hearted, more so when they figure out Roses’s importance with Wilkie’s fevered demands to keep her with him always. Knox wouldn’t listen at first, but later it was decided it’s best for Wilkie’s to keep Roses close by. Gradually Wilkie heals. Effie, the healer woman is very impressed with Roses’s healing work. It’s very apparent that Wilkie is a goner in reality, and not just by the fever of his infection. He deems Roses as his ‘angel who saved him from the dark and brought to the light.’ Roses, who is rather an ingénue in the matter of love and sex, can’t help fall for Wilkie a little every day. She knows nothing good would come from this, but for the first time in her life, she is this close to a human being in real sense. Wilkie’s presence gives her comfort. I could see them connecting, and the way Wilkie was with his words without being a sly charmer, I could also see Roses never recovering from him.
Anyway, as he heals, the talks of Wilkie marrying one of the Morrison daughters come to light. Roses unfortunately eavesdrops and hears Knox, Kade and him talking about it. Wilkie wouldn’t marry any of them, even though from their discussion it was implied that Wilkie might’ve slept with one of the daughters who had set her eyes on him. It’s her who is pushing the suit with her father to get Wilkie as her husband. Yah, well, I didn’t like knowing that Wilkie is callous enough now to turn on the girl, just because she wasn’t a virgin to begin with (according to him), but I let it pass. He was more than enamored of Roses and had plans of his own. Of course, Knox still thought it’s a passing fancy and Wilkie will marry... He has to marry, for their clans will unite for King Alexander, among other things.
Roses is clear enough about her place here, but she can’t help dreaming of being Wilkie’s wife. Who can blame her? She is a very innocent girl and even the tough life she led couldn’t really corrupt her. It was a blessing on its own. I liked Roses immensely. Yes, maybe once or twice I thought she’s being too forgiving or nice for my liking or too giving in that sense, but she was a good heroine. I already said I totally adored Wilkie and his obsessions over Roses. Every time he’d call ‘My Roses’ be it a normal conversation or making love to her, my knees would literally give in… WOW! It was gooood!! Anyway, it’s also confirmed that the Morrisons will visit in a few weeks to have the discussion of this marriage and I knew there’d be trouble since the girl who’d be inevitably spurned by Wilkie later, would be among the bunch. At this point, the story felt a little dragging since much wasn’t happening. I would’ve loved to read a little of Wilkie’s POV too, but that’s not a big complain. The guy was verbal enough to tell Roses how much he wants her and is crazy about her. :p So, we find Roses getting to know the Mackenzie lands, having a home here now. After Knox learning of Ogilvie’s foul attempts on her, she’s here to stay. They now know that Ogilvie will do everything to have Roses back. Roses dresses well with Ailie’s help, who herself is a dressmaker, and enchants Wilkie even more. They kiss and fondle, but don’t make love in that sense. Roses wants to have sex, and this is something I loved about her. She never really denied what she wanted and she always made sure that Wilkie knew how much she wants him. Her yearning for Wilkie was completely unconditional.
Once, as Roses and the sisters have a tour outside, they’re attacked by the Ogilvie soldiers who were lying in wait for her. It was a clumsy trick, and yet, Wilkie is enraged. He becomes Roses’s savior when the sisters ran to call for help. He makes sure that the security is tighter. Roses feels ashamed that the Mackenzies are now in trouble for her, but Wilkie assures her that it’s no trouble at all. She’s his, and she’s staying with him, end of the issue. Roses can only dream but not yet sure, with the Morrisons’ arriving anytime now. And when they do, things get a little muddy. We meet more new characters from the Morrison clan; the Laird’s daughters, especially the beautiful, yet reclusive Stella. The oldest is supposed to be going to the convent soon. So if Wilkie isn’t marrying Maisie, the third sister who’s pressing her suit, it’d be Stella who’d have to be married to him. But it doesn’t look like Stella is interested in this match, at all. But no one cares about her choice of course. We also meet the Munros. It seems like Ailie has a soft spot for the red-haired, gruff laird of the Munros. The feasting and celebration begin for this. Roses isn’t really enjoying this since she thinks she has to go away soon. Also, when, from Wilkie’s attentions to Roses, Maisie got the idea of how his interest has shifted for the good, Roses had to suffer through murderous glares from her. When I read about the Morrisons’ visit, I knew some trouble would be coming from Maisie, and she definitely tried my patience. I couldn’t entirely blame Maisie, yet I couldn’t stand her petty actions later when she tries too much to gain Wilkie’s attentions by touching him too much, showing that off as well, and in one scene, even going as far as to humiliate Roses by calling her a whore and a kitchen servant. Roses answers back to her, and I wanted to shake her when she’s ashamed later on (because Maisie deserved it). However, it was real fun to watch Wilkie’s jealousy when a man even so much as glanced at Roses in a different way. His possessiveness over Roses was heart-melting.
But still, Roses was not sure about her fate. Can Wilkie marry her, as he has been promising her for a time now? What about that tattoo she has? What if it’s the mark of a witch and he’s disgusted by it? Roses can’t quite imagine what’ll happen afterwards. In her agitated state, Roses this time presses Wilkie to make love to her. Wilkie wants to wait for their wedding, even if it’s killing him to be so near her and not make her his. This time, Roses’s begging and pouting gets to him and he’s like ‘does my Roses want me to prove my love for her? Does she want this...?’... ummm, and I was like OMG-HELP-ME-SOMEONE. Wilkie, damn the vain jerk (this is me being affectionate to him, *heehee*), I loved his words to Roses. Guess I already mentioned it. He finally gives in. The few love scenes this story had were super sensual without being explicit in that sense. Just so good, and got me really well. They were beautifully written and honestly, I craved for more of those later on.
Yet, the next day after their lovemaking, trouble begins. Roses decides to run away after she hears Knox being disappointed in Wilkie, and thinking he can’t really marry her. Knox was still adamant about Stella’s match with Wilkie and when Wilkie said he wanted to marry Roses and no one else, things got a little out of hand. Knox lost his wife a few years ago in childbirth, so I wasn’t sure why he wasn’t marrying one of the girls and pressing Wilkie so. It made me quite mad at him! I didn’t think Kade would step in, but he does in the end knowing that this would help his brother and the woman he loves. But Roses weren’t aware of the final solution. Alone, she makes her decision. She flew to the cave where she was with Wilkie on that long ago night and is captured by Ogilvie’s men. Roses’s actions can be called foolish but even I could see that she was scared and confused. Don’t think Wilkie was far behind though. When he finds her gone soon afterwards, Wilkie realizes what happened. He even tracks her down with Kade’s help, only to realize that she’s in grave danger. After a bloody skirmish near the cave, Wilkie sends Kade to get help. Afterwards, he’s also captured by the Ogilvie men and taken to Roses’s old clan. The story fairly picks up from here, and the twists were very good. There are some bloody moments, and some good revelations ahead. I wasn’t very surprised by Roses’s real identity but I was very happy for her nonetheless. And Wilkie was... just Wilkie ‘till the end. When the story ended, it was a real good feeling I tell you!
Now, I can hardly wait to find out how Kade wins sad and withdrawn Stella’s heart in Highlander Taken. There were some rumors about why she’s this way, which only whetted my appetite. I’m also thinking about Knox and who he’d be paired with... Would that be the sister who’s going to the convent because she’s not good-looking enough to catch a husband? Hmm... meanwhile 4.25 stars for Highlander Claimed!
This ARC was provided to me by Harlequin/HQN via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.