The Angel and the Highlander

The Angel and the Highlander - Donna Fletcher This is the 3rd book in the Sinclare Brothers series - this one is about Lachlan, the charmer and lady-killer of the bunch. And this is probably the most aggravating of the series! Don't get me wrong, I love Lachlan, and I couldn't wait to see him fall in love. But once again, the author ruins the story and does a disservice to the characters she's so lovingly built by giving them modern attitudes and vernacular.The Sinclares are still in search of the youngest brother, Ronan, who was captured by barbarians almost 2 years ago. They know he escaped somehow, but Ronan hasn't yet made his way home. Why? Bethane, grandmother to Zia married to the second brother Artair, says that when they find the barbarian's daughter, Carissa, they'll find Ronan. Bethane is a wise woman, who knows much more than she says, and when she talks often does so in riddles. But Bethane is usually right.So Lachlan has undertaken a mission for a neighbor laird. Bunnock sent his shrewish daughter Alyce away to a convent to try to tame her tongue and her independent ways. Now Laird Bunnock wants Alyce to return home, hoping that she's learned her lesson and will marry the man of his choosing, as is her duty. Lachlan and his men will fetch Alyce home, while trying to locate a band of mercenaries rumored to have news about Ronan. It's thought that Ronan was sold to these mercenaries, and Lachlan hopes that he'll find his brother among them and bring him home.When Lachlan and his men arrive at the convent, they're surprised to find what looks more like a farm, and nuns/sisters who dress like regular women - no nun's habits. The sisters tell the men that the rest of their group was killed by illness, and they show the men the graves. Alyce Bunnock is among them.But the nun in charge, Sister Terese, is a beautiful sight, and Lachlan finds himself drawn to her immediately. He thinks it's just his lust, since he's a man with a great appetite for women and usually has no problem charming any woman he wants. Lachlan sees his men falling for the other sisters, and sternly warns them that they'll all burn in hell for their thoughts, much less if they act on them. But Lachlan and the men also realize that something isn't quite right. There's a band of rogues supposedly in the area, and the neighboring clans are warring with each other in fear of the mercenaries and rogues - each trying to take more and more land. Refugees from burned villages and farms come to Everagis, the convent, for help and safety.Except neither the rogues nor the mercenaries seem to harm the sisters or the convent. And there's lots of food and other supplies ripe for the picking, not to mention the luscious sisters. Lachlan and his men try to uncover the reason behind all of this; believing that they're superior in tracking, hunting, warring, and dealing with rogues and mercenaries keeps them blind to what's really happening. And the more time Lachlan spends with Sister Terese, the more he falls for her and thinks that she's falling for him.Sister Terese has more than one secret. It's obvious to the reader from almost the start that she's really Alyce Bunnock. When Sister Terese succumbed to the illness that took the other sisters, Alyce buried Terese as Alyce and took her identity. The other four remaining women aren't really sisters any more than Alyce is; they're simply women who wandered to Everagis needing help. Grateful to the sisters, the women wanted to remain with them and were willing to take the necessary vows, but the illness prevented them from doing so when all the nuns died. Terese wants to tell Lachlan that she's Alyce, but she fears his reaction, since she's heard him talk about the ugly shrew Alyce. But she does tell him that none of the women are truly nuns... and that starts Lachlan and his men pursuing the women. And of course, that means that they're more interested in impressing and wooing than in figuring out what's really going on. So the men set about building shelters for the refugees who keep coming... and doing odd handy work around Everagis. Their attempts to locate and talk to the mercenaries are pitiful, to say the least.But Terese and her band of women have made contact with the mercenaries. The leader remains hidden, but Septimus is the spokesperson for the leader, and meets with Terese and the women. Terese makes a bargain with the leader and Septimus: in exchange for medical help and a share of the food and goods from Everagis, the mercenaries protect the women and they don't tell Lachlan and his men or anyone else about the mercenaries. Terese figures that the mercenary leader must be Ronan, Lachlan's brother, and that's the reason that the leader won't show his face or speak directly to her.Meanwhile, Lachlan and Terese have started a raging, lusty affair. Terese won't leave Everagis, because it's the only place where she's able to use her leadership gifts and have the independence she craves. No one questions her as a "sister" or demands that she capitulate to a man. She falls for Lachlan, but she justifies to herself that the affair is the only love she'll know and so she succumbs to Lachlan's bed. But she knows the only way to make him leave is to insist that she's not in love with him. Yes, that old fake-him-out trick.When Lachlan returns home broken-hearted, he must tell Bunnock that his daughter is dead. But, of course, when he learns of Alyce's physical description, he realizes that Terese is Alyce. And he starts thinking with his big brain and not his little brain, and he realizes that he's been tricked about the mercenaries, too.So back Lachlan goes... it's a 2 month round-trip, and when he arrives, he discovers that Terese/Alyce is pregnant with his child. He has a surprise for her, too: not only does he know who she is, he's convinced her father to allow him to marry him by proxy. Surprise! Alyce is already wed to Lachlan - his wife and his property. And he's taking her home.But what about Ronan and the mercenaries? Things heat up there, too... and Lachlan and his brothers discover that the answers to Ronan do very well lie within the mercenary camp....----------------Yeah. As I said, this was the most disappointing of the series. Lachlan is such a great guy, even though he's a lady-killer. It's great watching him fall for Terese/Alyce, because he's been determined never to fall in love. He'll marry for duty and for his clan. But his elder 2 brothers thought and said the same thing, and look what happened to them!The whole story too easily falls into the expected. Lachlan and Alyce become almost one-dimensional stereotypes, which is such a shame because they've both got such potential. It is ironic and funny when Alyce learns that none of the Sinclare wives really chose to marry; each, in her own way, was forced into marriage. And yet Honora and Zia couldn't be happier with their husbands and marriages.Alyce's struggle is that while growing up, her father indulged her independence. She sat at his table and learned about war and strategy and leadership; but when she was old enough to voice an opinion, she was pushed down. As many women do, she got shrill and shrewish, demanding to be listened to... and that got her a trip to a convent, where it was assumed that she would learn how to be obedient and dutiful, putting her true nature aside.And it is delightful watching Alyce deal with Cavan, the Sinclare laird. I also enjoyed seeing Lachlan deal with Terese/Alyce; while he has much to learn, he still treats her with respect and even deference. He proves that he's not all He-man for the sake of his time.But that's just the problem. Set in the 16th century and trying to claim some of that time's values and mores, the story quickly devolves because it's so focused on a "modern" attitude towards male-female relationships, female independence, sex, and marriage. It's easy for readers, mostly women, to get caught up in stories where the Heroine fights for her independence and decides when and where to give up her sexual innocence. But it simply wasn't done in that day. Freely giving herself to Lachlan made Terese/Alyce a "fallen woman", plain and simple. Lachlan hadn't a thought about having sex with village women or female servants; he certainly didn't ever think about marrying them, even if they did become pregnant (which none did to our knowledge). The point is that Alyce was almost guaranteeing herself a life of misery and shame by freely offering herself up to Lachlan. Look at Tess of the d'Urbervilles for goodness sakes! Thomas Hardy's whole theme was the injustice of making the woman responsible for that losing her innocence, even when forced!Only because I wanted to finally find out about Ronan did I read the next book. Again, such a shame, because there's a certain amount of "modern" I can handle with these characters. Lachlan remains true to himself, mostly - true to the character that the author has drawn to this point. I can forgive some of the actions of Lachlan and Alyce due to who they are, but I have a hard time with them totally disregarding the sanctity of the marriage bed so carelessly... so thoughtlessly. Lachlan seeking pure pleasure, yes. Lachlan intending to marry the woman and then seeking pure pleasure, no. It just wasn't done.