The morning after Michael Brodie marries the lovely Brenna, he marches off to join Wellington’s army, leaving his new wife alone with his unseemly Uncle Angus and an estate to manage.
Ten years later, when Michael finally returns home, he discovers a nest of vicious lies, tales of disloyalty, and most surprising of all, a blossoming love for the woman he left behind.
But his beloved is keeping a dark secret from him. A secret that begins to unfold when Michael’s young sister joins their household, and Uncle Angus’ true nature is revealed.
This is the final book in Ms Burrowes’ Captive Heartstrilogy, which has focused on three men who were profoundly affected by their experiences during the Napoleonic Wars. In the previous book, The Traitor, we learned that Michael Brodie, half-Scot, half-Irish, had been sent to protect Sebastian St. Clair – or Robert Girard as he was then known – while he carried out his work as an interrogator in the French army. The reasoning behind Michael’s deployment was complicated (basically, Sebastian had proved himself a valuable asset to the British and Wellington wanted him kept there and kept safe), and also meant that, even after the cessation of hostilities, Michael felt unable to go home given the frequency of the threats made against St Clair’s life.
The Laird is the story of Michael’s homecoming and of all the difficulties he has to face upon coming back to the land he has not seen for nine years and, more importantly, the bride he left after their (unconsummated) wedding night. The overall tone of the story is somewhat different to the other two and, indeed, to many others of Ms Burrowes’ books, but it is no less compelling for that.
Michael’s wife, Brenna, was sixteen when they married, having been brought up at Castle Brodie since the age of eight. After their wedding, she begged Michael to take her to France with him, but not wanting to subject her to that sort of hardship, he refused. He also refused to consummate their marriage because he didn’t want to leave her pregnant – although as the story progresses, we discover there was another reason behind that decision. And he also had no way of knowing that Brenna’s desperation to leave with him was due to more than the unwillingness of a bride to be separated from her new husband. Michael concedes that Brenna has every right to be angry with him for his extended absence, but there is something else behind her wall of cool stand-offishness that he can’t quite work out.
So Michael has returned to a wife he barely knows and who is full of anger, resentment and, he is surprised to realise, fear – as well as to a home and lands which are much changed since he left. The estate is failing, his tenants are wary of him, and, for no reason he can fathom, have taken his wife into active dislike. Even though she has provided financial assistance to those who have defaulted on their tenancies and then decided to make a life overseas rather than to scrape a meagre existence in the large coastal towns, and even though she continues to help the community as best she can, Brenna is treated with discourtesy and thinly veiled hostility.
In his absence, his uncle Angus has been responsible for running the estate, and he soon realises that there is no love lost between his uncle and his wife – and that his uncle is widely disliked among the tenants. Then into the midst of estate troubles and marital issues, his youngest sister, Maeve arrives from Ireland, resentful at being sent away from the only home she has ever known to the care of a brother she’s never met and who doesn’t appear to have any time for her.
The Laird is an emotionally charged story – not just in terms of the romance, but in all the other factors which come into play. At its heart is the very dark topic of child abuse, and the way in which one character preys upon the loneliness and isolation felt by a child sent into an unfamiliar environment. I’m no expert, but the way the author has written this particular character (and it’s not difficult to work out who it is from very early on in the book) feels very accurate and his actions are completely plausible. I should also warn readers that towards the end, Brenna describes the abuse she suffered, and while the description is quite specific, it is in no way gratuitous; Ms Burrowes treats the entire subject with great sensitivity, although she doesn’t sugar-coat anything.
The romance in The Laird is as beautifully written and developed as I have come to expect from this author. She has a lovely way with language, and her characters have a manner of speech which is completely unique to her, which is something I now look forward to each time I pick up one of her books. Michael is naturally eager to pursue his marital duties, but sensitive enough to realise that Brenna’s skittishness and dislike of casual and unexpected physical contact need to be treated both seriously and carefully. He also has his own demons to exorcise, so the couple has a very difficult path to tread. The way they come together – in mind, as well as in body – into a truly caring, mutually loving and supportive relationship is beautifully done.