by Sharon Cullen
Series: Highland Pride #1
Pub. Date: Jan. 19, 2016
If you love Maya Banks and Monica McCarty, don’t miss Sharon Cullen’s captivating Highland Pride novels! Sutherland’s Secret kicks off a series that’s overflowing with mouthwatering Scottish warriors, captivating history, and forbidden desire.
Terror reigns in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden. As British troops obliterate the last traces of the Jacobite cause, Brice Sutherland, the Earl of Dornach, risks everything to arrange a covert escape route to Canada for his fellow Scots. But when he encounters a dying Englishwoman, hauntingly beautiful though scarred by manacles and unable to speak, Brice’s true courage is put to the test. Nothing but ruin could result from helping her, or worse: falling in love.
The pampered daughter of a marquess, Eleanor Hirst was the talk of the London season when she wed the Earl of Glendale. Little did she know that his posting as an officer in Scotland would be their undoing. Now her husband is dead and Eleanor is a fugitive in a hostile country. Desperate for help, she throws herself on the mercy of Brice Sutherland, a handsome Scottish warrior who should be her enemy. Instead, he cares for her tenderly, reviving her shattered spirit—and awakening urges unlike any she’s ever known.
This is my first read from Sharon Cullen, and is my first highlander romance of the year. The setting is the Scottish Highlands (of course) approximately six weeks following the Battle of Culloden. The bulk of the book takes place as beautiful Donrath Castle, which was held by the Earls of Sutherland in the 16th Century, and is now a hotel. Just look at this place! I am adding it to my travel bucket list.
Interestingly enough, our hero, Brice Sutherland, did not participate in Battle at Culloden. He was not a Jacobite, nor an English sympathizer. He kept out of the skirmish as much as possible, but he did not prohibit his people from joining the Jacobites if they so desired. This is quite unique in Scottish historicals of this time period as usually we have a clear understanding of which side the clan is on. I think this is the first novel I have read where the hero was somewhat neutral. Brice is more interested in helping people than fighting battles, as evidenced by this covert activities to help those fleeing the land board ships to Canada and escape the Redcoats who are executing all Jacobite sympathizers by dirk, blade or sword. By his description, Brice appeared to be a blond behemoth of a man, most likely with some Norse ancestry. He was honorable, compassionate, and a great protector of his people.
The heroine, Lady Eleanor Hirst, Countess of Glendale, accompanied her husband to Scotland as he was a colonel serving the Duke of Cumberland. Eleanor thought she would be having a grand adventure, but quickly runs afoul of an evil redcoat who lusts after her husband's position and her body and social status. This causes a horrible chain of events whereby Eleanor ends up imprisoned, beaten, bruised and scarred. She is in such bad shape that when Brice and his men happen upon her - they first mistake her for a stinky pile of rags in the middle of the road. Realizing she is a woman, they do not think she will live the night. But she prevails, albeit terrorized and terrified to such a degree that she has lost the ability to speak. I enjoyed seeing Eleanor come back to herself, even though she is much changed from the girl who left London with stars in her eyes. The romance between Brice and Eleanor seemed jammed into the story at times... like it didn't quite fit. It stuck out most to me around the intimate scenes and I can't put my finger on exactly why, other than to say that they just seemed out of place or going from zero to sixty in too short a time.
Normally this is the kind of book that I like, and I did like this one, but I also found myself getting impatient with it. That may have had nothing to do with the book at all - I was feeling a bit moody in all honesty. But because the pacing was on the slower side, I found myself wanting to hurry up and get to the end. The story definitely felt longer than 294 pages, but the pace did pick up for about the last 20% of the book. I think that most historical romance fans will enjoy this one, so don't let my impatience influence you. :)
I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.