By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general.
Monica McCarty advertises her Highland Guard series (of which this is the first) as "Special Ops in kilts." These are medieval Scottish romances about an elite group of specially-trained, specially-skilled warriors who serve Robert the Bruce in the fourteenth-century struggle for Scottish independence. The first five of these books have been sitting in my TBR pile for ages, and I decided, in the week leading up to the September 18 vote on Scotland's independence referendum, that this was the perfect time to move them to the top of the pile. I read The Chief on Saturday-Sunday, The Hawk Monday-Tuesday, and started The Ranger this morning. Obviously, though, I'm not going to finish the whole ten book (so far) series by tomorrow's vote.
While it's clear McCarty did a lot of research (and her Author's Notes at the end of each book, about the true events versus where she took artistic liberties, are fascinating and not to be skipped), these read like wallpaper historicals because the dialogue and the character's sensibilities and values are anachronistically modern. That's okay with me: I'm not a stickler for historical accuracy so long as I get a good story.
The Chief tells the story of Tor McLeod, the reluctant leader of the Highland Guard, and Christina Fraser, the youngest daughter of a fervent and somewhat crazy Scottish rebel. Tor doesn't want to get involved with the Highland Guard or with Fraser and his cohorts, because it is better for his clan if he can keep them neutral in the bloody conflict between Robert Bruce and the English. However, when Fraser forces Christina to go along with one of those arrange-for-virgin-daughter-to-be-caught-alone-with-heir-so-he'll-be-honor-bound-to-marry-her schemes that one often sees in Regency romance plots, Tor no longer has much choice in the matter.
Despite her participation in this nefarious marriage trap (Christina only did it because she knew her weaker and meeker sister would be forced to if she didn't), Tor and Christina's marriage has a fairly promising beginning. He forgives her, they've got chemistry, and Christina works her curvy little butt off trying to be a good chatelaine for his dreary old heap of a castle. Unfortunately, Tor is determined to hold himself emotionally aloof because as master of his clan, he can't afford to have his judgment clouded by sentiment. Consequently, he tells her nothing about anything, and as a result of her naivete and her well-intentioned but misdirected attempts to muddle along in her new role without any guidance from her husband, Christina makes some very costly mistakes that threaten to drive a further wedge between the lovers.
I gave this book only three stars because I'm not a fan of the I-don't-wanna-love-you-because-REASONS trope (and the attendant poor communication between the main characters that always results), so the romance between Tor and Christina didn't do much for me, but the story about gathering and training the Highland Guard and the coming conflict between the Bruce and the English was enough to hold my attention anyway.