Ever since Lady Grace Walsingham discovered her uncle and sister are spies for the Crown, she has yearned for adventure. She’s counting the days until she can leave barbaric Scotland behind, even if she must endure Highland captain Fagan Murray’s company for weeks.
Fagan has a simple mission: escort the haughty Lady Grace back to England. But nothing is ever easy. The sharp-tongued woman needles him at every turn. But when a menacing threat follows them on their journey, Fagan’s grudging tolerance for Grace turns to respect…and into a perilous attraction that could seal their fate.
Kilts and Daggers is the second book in the author’s Highland Spies series. I haven’t read the previous book, and although this one works for the most part as a standalone, there are some references to earlier events which left me feeling a little in the dark. It’s a straightforward and – unfortunately – not especially original read, telling the story of the adamantly English Lady Grace Walsingham and her love-hate relationship with Fagan Murray, the ruggedly handsome Highlander and captain of the guard for Ruairi, Laird Sutherland, who has recently married Grace’s elder sister, Ravenna.
Grace loves her sister dearly, but really doesn’t understand her decision to leave the civilisation of England for the wild, untamed highlands of Scotland. The weather is dreadful, the food is horrible, the language is impenetrable and the men are too large and unsophisticated. In short, she hates the place, but she’s agreed to remain there for a month after her sister’s wedding in order to get her two younger sisters settled as they are now to reside with Ravenna and her husband. Grace is betrothed to a handsome young Englishman, Lord Daniel Casterbrook, and the wedding is set to take place as soon as she returns home.
Grace and Fagan strike sparks off each other at every encounter, desperately trying to fight the strength of the attraction building between them. When the time comes for her return to England, Grace is torn, but can’t admit it. The thought of marriage to the handsome, refined Daniel is no longer quite the attractive prospect it once was – but given Rhianna’s choice to marry a highlander, it’s down to Grace to make the brilliant match that will enable her to ensure that her younger sisters are also able to marry well when the time comes. At the appointed time, she sets out with the armed escort provided by her new brother-in-law which is headed, of course, by his trusted captain of the guard. Ruairi and Rhianna see them off, wondering how on earth the pair will survive the journey to England without killing each other!
I generally like romances in which the protagonists start out disliking each other, so the continual back-and-forth indulged in by Grace and Fagan – which is well written and often funny – is the most enjoyable part of the book. But I had a hard time warming to Grace and at times, found her continual denigration of everything about her host’s nation to be rather uncomfortable. Not that the Scots don’t put down the English as well; the book is set in 1610, just a few years after the countries were united under King James I, and relations are clearly difficult, to say the least. But Grace comes off as snobbish and self-important, and I lost patience with her on more than one occasion. One of those was when she refused Fagan’s proposal of marriage after they’d slept together. It’s such an anachronistic attitude and always annoys me when I come across it in historical romances, because women were almost exclusively judged according to their “purity” (and often still are). Her preoccupation with following in Ravenna’s footsteps and becoming a spy for the crown (which is such a hackneyed phrase, no matter the era in which the book is set) is also incredibly naïve, when it’s clear as day that she’s completely unsuited to such an occupation. But it’s definitely a point in Grace’s favour when she eventually concedes this and comes to see what a stupid idea it is. She also grows up considerably during the latter part of the book, which meant that I was fonder of her when I’d finished than I had been at the outset.
Fagan is your archetypal rugged highlander, brave, honourable and gorgeous (if a little rough around the edges), but although he’s an attractive character, he doesn’t really rise above the two-dimensional. The secondary storyline is well-integrated into the romance and lends some excitement to the journey, but the villain of the piece is rather a one-note character and the reasons behind his actions are somewhat simplistic.
In spite of my reservations about the characterisation and actions of the heroine, Kilts and Daggers is an enjoyable, well-written story, and if you can get past Grace’s faults, you may enjoy it more than I did. Ultimately, however, the book lacks substance and that certain something that makes for a truly memorable read.