Highland Warrior (Campbell Trilogy #1)

Highland Warrior - Monica McCarty This book surprised me... I expected the run-of-the-mill Highlander romance story with a dark Hero and a plucky Heroine. And this story has much more depth and texture than that.Jamie Campbell might seem dark, but he's not really. Jamie's reputation as Argyll's Henchman and The Enforcer have been exaggerated to make him out to be ruthless and merciless, when the truth is that Jamie dearly wants to bring law and order to the Highlands. With King James on the throne, a king rules both England and Scotland for the first time; and King James wants to put a stop to the warring and feuding. He's appointed his favorite, the Earl of Argyll (Jamie's cousin) to do it. But Argyll is a Campbell (sometimes called King Campbell), and the Campbells have a rough reputation of taking lands that don't belong to them.Jamie is on the hunt, looking for a group of particular MacGregors thought responsible for a bloody massacre at Glenfruen. The burning, pillaging, and fighting was considered one of the worst in its day. And Jamie is out to get those responsible and make them pay - not revenge for its own sake, but for justice. Jamie truly believes that it's possible for Scotland to be free of the escalating conflicts between clans, and he's ready to do what it takes.Jamie comes to Lamont land looking for the MacGregors, because of an old Highland tale of hospitality, whereby the Lamonts (sometimes supporters of the MacGregors) wouldn't be able to refuse the hiding MacGregors the hospitality of Lamont lands and supplies. But should the MacGregors be caught on Lamont lands, it means sure death for the Lamont laird - penalty set by King James. Jamie knows it's a good time for the MacGregors to be on Lamont lands, too, since the Lamonts are hosting this summer's (1608) Highland games; an extra man or two roaming around would be thought a guest attending the games.Caitrina Lamont is the Lamont laird's only daughter, and hostess of his keep and castle since her mother died several years ago. She's 17-18, and her father wants to see her safely married - it's one of the reasons he decided to host the Highland games. He hopes that she'll chose a husband from among the many men attending - many of them suitors willing to take her in marriage. Caitrina is beautiful, although in typical Heroine fashion, she's not aware of her beauty; she seems vain and spoiled at times, though, because she wears finery and jewels and she knows little of the true politics of the Highlands. Her father and brothers have kept it that way, and Caitrina doesn't like to think of such things. But she's also not aware that her father's lands aren't as profitable as they once were, nor is she aware of the possible danger of the MacGregors. Caitrina only knows that the Campbells are her clans sworn enemies. Caitrina's mother was a Campbell, and instead of forging an alliance between the two clans, it only drove the wedge deeper; her mother was cut off from all Campbells - something that haunts Caitrina to this day.When Caitrina and Jamie meet, Caitrina is literally up a tree. Her youngest brother Brian convinced Caitrina to help him get a little kitten from the tree, but then Brian dashed off and left her. Caitrina is dangling from a limb, trying to figure out how to get down when she hears a deep voice asking if she needs help. This stranger is one of the most handsome Highland warriors that she's ever seen - all chiseled muscle and handsome face; but she also sees that he's a warrior through-and-through. As a result of his teasing and her haughtiness, Jamie earns a boon for helping her down from the tree - a kiss. Caitrina tries to make it a kiss on the hand, but Jamie pulls her in and kisses her thoroughly, taking away her senses. She's afraid of the strong emotions and feelings that kiss leaves with her. And while he doesn't show it, Jamie is disturbed by the strength of his own emotion. Jamie decides to use courting Caitrina as a means to hide his true purpose - finding the MacGregors on Lamont land, if they're there. But he is drawn more and more to Caitrina, realizing that this attraction is more than just desire or lust. And even Caitrina's father encourages her to consider Jamie Campbell's offer of marriage; it might not be a bad idea, he thinks, to be aligned with Argyll's Henchman. But Caitrina resists, appalled that her father would even consider such an alliance. She kisses another young laird who'd like her hand, only to discover that the young laird isn't as much a gentleman as he purports - he tries to force her into more than a simple kiss... a kiss that didn't move Caitrina at all. Jamie Campbell to the rescue of course! Except that Caitrina is so angry at Jamie's attitude of possession and the surety that she'll accept his hand, in a fit of pique she flatly rejects him. As he hardens his heart, Jamie tells her distinctly that she'll regret refusing him and she'll soon have her eyes opened to the real world.And it's not long afterwards that Caitrina sees Jamie's words come true, as his oldest brother Colin storms onto Lamont lands, kills her father, and in the ensuing fight, kills her brothers and burns her home down around her. If Jamie hadn't rescued her, Colin's men would have raped her and done who knows what else. But Caitrina isn't sure whether Jamie was part of this plan or not... and when he comes to her a few months later and asks her to marry him, she doesn't know what to do. Jamie tells her the truth about what his brother did and that he (Jamie) wasn't part of the plan, but off elsewhere; as soon as he heard of what his brother planned to do, he rode as fast as possible to try to stop it. But when he arrived, the worst was already happening; all he could do was save her from the man who was trying to rape her.Jamie tells her that she can regain her home, her lands, and her clan if she'll marry him. He wants her to trust that he'll love and care for her, but of course, he never says the word "love". Caitrina decides that it's her duty to her clan, and it doesn't hurt that there's such a strong connection/attraction to Jamie. But she's wary - he's a Campbell, and even if he wasn't directly responsible for what happened, his brother and his cousin were.Can Jamie and Caitrina find love and happiness when they're on opposite sides of the Highland clan feuds? Can Caitrina trust Jamie - or trust his relatives - to do what's right by her and her people? Can Jamie win Caitrina's faith and love to see that he wants only law and justice to stop the fighting? Will she trust him enough to look out for her and her people?Both Jamie and Caitrina are put to the test time and again, and their love is both shattered and strengthened. But can either of them or their love survive?---------------------------The MacGregors were really outlaws in Scotland in this time. In fact, the MacGregor name was banned - no one could take that name without penalty of death. So the feuds, fighting, and horrors are all true history, as is the Earl of Argyll.What impressed me about this story is that it doesn't take the "easy" route or the "formula" route. Yes, there is a Big Misunderstanding, but there's actually more than one. And both Jamie and Caitrina are fighting against years of prejudice and hatred. Both discover that love, trust, and respect take time - they can't be forced or forged through passion alone.I like that Jamie is always honest with Caitrina. He never deliberately keeps the truth from her or tries to sugar-coat it. He definitely makes mistakes, but he really does his best to show her how much he cares and try to allow her to find happiness, peace, and safety with him. Caitrina is still growing up, although the death of her family and the loss of her home, clan, and lands does a lot to force her to grow up in a short time. But she's still coming-of-age, still finding out what it means to be a woman (a Highland woman at that), and still grappling with the questions of love and loyalty and trust.This isn't a bodice-ripping, fun-fluff, beach read. It's a story with depth and characters with layers - compelling and heart-breaking, as it takes the reader on a journey of life.