3-3.5 starsI liked this book, because IMO, it's not your run-of-the-mill Highland romance. The Hero is the eldest Sinclare brother, Cavan, who was captured in a bloody battle against a Barbarian (Mordrec) when his younger brother, Ronan, falls in the battle. Cavan tries desperately to reach Ronan before the barbarians take him as prisoner, but he fails. And then is separated from his brother and tortured - not just physically, but mentally with images of how his younger brother is being tortured and dying.But Cavan escapes his captivity a year later and returns home.... arriving just as his second brother, Artair, is about to be pronounced man and wife with Honora, a dark-haired, violet-eyed, meek step-daughter of Calum Tannach, an ambitious, brutal, cruel man. Except that Calum declares that Honora *isn't* married to Artair, she's actually just married Calum by proxy, since the wedding contract stipulates that Honora must marry the *heir* to the Sinclaire clan. And with Cavan now returned, he's the laird's heir.Cavanis still dealing with his perceived failure of being unable to save his brother and of being unable to discover and help his brother escape. He's lived as an animal for a year - locked in a cage, left in his own filth, beaten and tortured, and barely fed. After escaping, Cavan has done what he's needed to do to survive. But he feels foreign being back home again - he feels the "beast" in him is still too raw, too angry for him to live or be the man he once was. And he *definitely* doesn't want to be married... and certainly not to mousy Honora.Cavan met Honora 10 or so years back, when she was playing in the forest. She saw and heard a horde of men on horseback coming her way, and in a panic, she fled thinking that they were barbarians on a raid. But in her panic, Honora headed right for the cliffs and would have plunged over them if not for a brave rider who snatched her away in time. That brave rider was Cavan.Honora's stepfather Calam tried to marry her to Cavan before his capture, but Cavan declined, saying that he needed a brave, strong woman to stand by his side, not a woman afraid of her own shadow. But Cavan doesn't realize that Calum has physically and mentally beaten Honora since marrying her mother when Honora was very small. Honora's mother died when she was about 8 years old, leaving Honora to deal with Calum on her own. Honora's learned that standing up to Calum only results in more beating and mental cruelty; so she's developed her own defenses, mostly her calm, cool head and her quick wit. She's been able to outwit Calum and have a modicum of freedom in the forest and the moors.When Honora met Artair Sinclare, she saw that he was kind. While she wasn't sure she wanted to marry, she knew she had no choice, and she thought that at least she might have a good life and some freedom with Artair. But when she found herself irrevocably married to Calum, Honora was beside herself. Her new husband barely looked at her and refused to sleep in the same bed with her, preferring instead to sleep on the floor before the hearth. Honora knows that she must be sure that the marriage is consummated or her stepfather will probably kill her, because the shame of Cavan's rejection will haunt her and make her unmarriageable. She tries her best to be a good wife, but she doesn't know how... especially not in a family such as the Sinclares, where there are servants and ways that she's not used to. And Cavan intimidates and frightens her. Still, she keeps herself well-groomed and sweet-smelling and tries her best to show him that she's a dutiful and obedient wife.Honora is confused by Cavan's reactions. One minute he's almost feral, the next he's kind; one minute she thinks he'll take her on the spot, the next he's pushing her away. What Honora doesn't realize is that Cavan is afraid of his "beast", and while he's not thrilled with his new wife's shyness, he feels she deserves a loving, gentle husband and a loving, gentle first sexual experience. The two slowly find their way together when Honora determines that being married to Cavan is a much better life than she had; it offers her protection from her stepfather and a chance for a loving, happy marriage. And Honora will do what she can to have that loving, happy marriage. So the two begin to talk, and Cavan comes to see that Honora is a prisoner just set-free from cruelty and abuse, too. His protective side comes out, and he teaches her how to defend herself against unwanted attacks. And in doing so, Cavan falls in love with his wife.But there's unrest in Sinclare lands. Rumors keep coming about Ronan, and each time, Cavan flies to try to find Ronan. Then Tavis Sinclare, father and laird, is killed - a dagger to the heart. Everyone knows that Tavis was a great warrior; whoever killed him was someone that Tavis thought a friend, not a foe, and wasn't on guard against. Cavan is sure that this somehow has to do with Mordrec the Barbarian, but he doesn't know who on Sinclare land is assisting Mordrec.When Honora is captured, Cavan must face Mordrec to get her back. And he's willing to give his own life to set her free.-------------------While Cavan generally fits the description of the "tortured" Hero, I found his demons more realistic and less annoying that the usual fare. He's not wallowing in self-pity, he's filled with righteous anger... and misplaced guilt at not being able to save his baby brother. But his behavior shows that he's a changed man; Cavan's afraid that his "beast" might never be tamed. And his family and clan all seem to want the Cavan back that they knew before, but how can that be? Cavan has forever been changed by his experiences. And he has to live and work through those horrors to find who he is now. Honora might be the beautiful, innocent Heroine, but she's not the usual "spunky" sort. Her wit and personality don't really come to the surface until she makes up her mind to love Cavan no matter what; until she trusts in his protection and forges a bond with him. Her unconditional love and acceptance is what Cavan needs to heal, and she offers that in abundance. Her gentle, unassuming ways are what he needs. And because Honora didn't know the Cavan-before, she places no expectations on who he is now - she simply accepts him.It's a compelling and beautiful story. So why did I only give it 3-3.5 stars? Because there's so much MODERN about this story... modern phrases and attitudes that are out of place in the 16th century. I'm sure that the author was trying to relate to the audience and not burden them with how life really was - all the traditions, etc. But it's jarring to the reader. And the "mystery" isn't so much a mystery... it's so obvious that you want to shake the characters into realizing it!So while this book can be a good read, it's not a great read. And I admit that my standards are high. It's tough for me to give a 4-star rating and almost unheard of for me to give a 5-star rating. So keeping with my rating system, this book is only a 3.5.