The Lady and the Laird by Nicola Cornick

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Lady Lucy MacMorlan may have forsworn men and marriage, but that doesn’t mean she won’t agree to profit from writing love letters for her brother’s friends – letters that become increasingly racy as her fame grows. That is, until she deliberately ruins the betrothal of a notorious laird, Robert, Marquis of Methven.

Past centuries of bloodshed have left the Methven and MacMorlan families bitter enemies and Robert is furious that Lady Lucy’s letters have cost him the bride he needs so urgently to save his ancestral clan lands. Now he makes Lucy a shocking proposal; in return for his silence she must become his wife and provide him with the heir he needs. It is an inconvenient marriage of convenience but can the rugged laird and the bluestocking beauty fight against the power of love?

Rating: B

The Lady and the Laird is an enjoyable, well-paced story in which the principal characters are well-drawn and the central romance thoroughly engaging. The historical background which tells of the plight of the crofters and farmers of the Highlands and Islands of the time was also very interesting and was used to good effect as a backdrop for the story, the underlying theme of which was the long-standing conflict between the opposing clans of Methven and Cardross.

In an attempt, centuries earlier, to reconcile the warring clans, King James IV of Scotland imposed a treaty upon both families whereby the Methvens were granted lands previously owned by the Earls of Cardross. These lands form a large part of the Methven estate, and King James’ ruling that any Methven heir had to fulfil certain conditions in order to inherit still stands, centuries later. Because he was abroad at the time of his father’s death, Robert Methven has failed to fulfil one of these conditions – and must therefore fulfil the other in order to inherit his estate in its entirety, which is that he must be married within twelve months to a descendant of the first Earl of Cardross.

Sadly, such descendants are thin on the ground, but Robert, knowing his duty to his family and dependents, becomes engaged to one Dulcibella Brodrie, a very distant cousin to the current earl and – as he thinks –the only eligible female of the line. Unfortunately however, Dulcibella elopes on their wedding day, leaving Robert at the altar and despairing of ever being able to regain control of the estates which the earl is bleeding dry. Wilfred Cardross is a most unpleasant character and has systematically stripped the land, made no improvements to secure food production or trade, and is in fact selling information to the French as well as allowing the press-gangs to swoop onto his lands to impress the able-bodied men, leaving behind only women, children and the elderly to work the land. Robert is not aware of the full extent of Wilfred’s wrongdoing and knows only that the crofters are being badly treated and in danger of starvation and being thrown off their lands.

Fortunately, however, it transpires that there is one other woman who fulfils the criteria under the terms of the treaty – Lady Lucy MacMorlan. She and Robert have met on occasion, and while she has not lacked for male attention, and has, in fact, been betrothed once, to a man much older than herself who died before they could marry, Robert is the only man to whom she has ever given more than a passing thought.

Lucy is intrigued and very reluctantly attracted to Robert, who is handsome, clever and charming while yet being quite unlike any other man she has ever met; even though he was going to have to enter into a marriage of convenience in order to secure his inheritance, Robert is as attracted to Lucy as she to him, so a marriage between them would seem to be an ideal outcome.

But after the death of her fiancé, Lucy vowed that never to marry because he was such a paragon that she will never find someone who will be able to match him in her estimation. Or rather, those are the reasons she has given publicly for her decision – her real reasons for eschewing marriage run far deeper.

I admit that while I could sympathise to an extent with those reasons, I did find Lucy’s continual refusals of Robert’s proposal to be annoying, especially given that she was perfectly well aware of his situation, that she was overwhelmingly attracted to him and the fact that she had come to realise that he was trustworthy and honourable. When she eventually did tell him the truth, his reaction was one of understanding and sympathy – and she could have saved herself a lot of grief and unpleasantness had she confessed earlier!

Apart from that, however, Lucy proved herself to be an intelligent and resourceful heroine who had spent so much of her life being proper that she had almost forgotten how to enjoy life and almost lost the opportunity to be the person she was meant to be under the burden of her reputation as the perfect woman. Once she was released from her self-imposed bonds, she became a true helpmeet for her husband, especially when it was his turn to deal with his own emotional baggage.

Robert was a thoroughly charming and slightly roguish hero whose attractiveness is in part due to the slightly rough edge to his manner gained over the decade he spent living and working in the wilds of Canada. He’s a man who takes his responsibilities very seriously and who is prepared to be ruthless in his fulfilment of them, even to the point of acting somewhat underhandedly in his pursuit of Lucy. But his motives are good, and if anything, I found his actions more deserving of sympathy than Lucy’s continual denial of her desires in refusing to marry him.

In short, I found The Lady and the Laird to be a delightful mixture of adventure and romance. The pace is swift and there is a lot going on, but I never felt as though anything was left unfinished or under-developed. The romance between Robert and Lucy progressed quickly but didn’t feel rushed, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a quick, uncomplicated, and ultimately satisfying read.

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