Maggie McCallum’s dreams about her new fiancé aren’t the romantic sort. It’s not just that she was bartered to Owen Duff like a piece of property to end a clan feud. She’s also haunted by premonitions of his death on their upcoming wedding day. Yet the exasperating Highlander won’t let her call it off, even though his life and his clan are both in jeopardy.
Owen has wanted Maggie in his bed since he first glimpsed her years ago. If their union restores peace between their clans, so much the better. But while lusting after another chief’s sister had its risks, growing to trust Maggie is far more dangerous. Owen is falling deeply in love with the one woman he cannot hope to claim . . . and survive.
The Groom Wore Plaid is the sequel to Gayle Callen’s The Wrong Bride, and the story in this book picks up more or less where the first ended, with Maggie McCallum agreeing to wed Owen Duff, the new Earl of Aberfoyle, in order to satisfy a long-standing agreement between their two clans. Because Maggie’s brother Hugh had indeed fallen in love with the wrong bride – Owen’s cousin rather than his sister – there was no other way to secure a lasting peace between the two families – but now, Maggie is wondering whether her hasty agreement to Owen’s suggestion was the right one.
Even though they had met briefly as children, it wasn’t until a chance meeting in Edinburgh some ten years before this story commences that Owen and Maggie became friends. Owen’s enthusiasm for scientific pursuits thoroughly intrigued Maggie who, as a woman, was denied the opportunity to learn anything other than deportment and embroidery. She took delight in the companionship of someone who treated her as an equal and didn’t think her curiosity inappropriate or unladylike, even as she recognised that there was more to her feelings for Owen than friendship. Their idyll ended abruptly, however, when the strength of the attraction between them almost overwhelmed their common sense, and Owen had to tell Maggie he had been betrothed as a child to a young woman chosen by his father. Deeply upset at Owen’s duplicity, Maggie vowed never to see him again, but later that very night, she had a vivid dream showing his fiancée surrounded by water, a vision Maggie knew foretold the young woman’s death by drowning.
Growing up, Maggie learned to be very cautious about telling others of her ‘gift’, fearing accusations of witchcraft (at worst) or social ostracism, but she knew she would not be able to live with herself if she did nothing to try to save the life of Owen’s betrothed. She went to see him once more to tell him of her dream, but Owen dismissed her fears as ridiculous, putting them down to jealousy and anger.
Two weeks after Maggie’s warning, the girl and her family were drowned.
A decade later, Maggie is still resentful of Owen’s treatment of her, both in not telling her he was engaged and in so casually dismissing her dream as nonsense. Over the years, she has trained herself to prevent having dreams that foretell the future, forcing herself to wake up before they take hold; but on her first night at Castle Kinlochard, she dreams of Owen lying in a pool of blood on their wedding day. Terrified at the thought of losing him, she begs him to release her from the betrothal , but his reaction is as dismissive as before and he remains committed to their contract. Going back on his word will risk the already uneasy peace between the Duffs and the McCallums and Owen is not prepared to do that. He is already regarded with suspicion by his own clan because of his father’s insistence on living in London in the style of an English earl and knows he has a lot of prejudice to overcome before the clan accepts him fully as their chief. Taking a bride from a rival family is an ages old solution to enmity, and even though Owen is annoyed at having had his choices in that regard taken away from him, he can’t find it in him to be too dissatisfied with his bargain. Maggie is beautiful, intelligent and spirited and he wants her as much as he ever did. Maggie feels a similar pull towards Owen, but his refusal to take her dream seriously only tells her that he still doesn’t trust her and that he never will.
Like Owen, Maggie also has to struggle against the prejudice she encounters at the castle, and there are many who do not forgive and forget and are not at all happy at the presence of a McCallum in their midst. A series of supposed “accidents” – burned out barns, stolen cattle – seem to be the work of a disgruntled clan member, but when Maggie finds a symbol of evil intent in her bedchamber, it seems there might be more at work than a simple grudge.
Maggie is an estimable heroine for the way she is so focused on saving Owen at the cost of her own happiness, but I disliked her bitterness. She keeps harping on to herself about how he doesn’t trust her because he hadn’t believed her dream from a decade ago, yet I had to wonder how she could have expected a different reaction from a man whose interest lay in science. I also found it a bit odd that she was still angry at him for not telling her he was engaged back then. I can understand her being upset at the time, but hanging on to it for ten years – and ten years after the woman died– seemed a bit much.
Owen’s distrust of Maggie is also a little overdone at the beginning, but I could forgive him to an extent because he has so much to do and learn and is a man beset on all sides. He must take a wife not of his choosing, confront the suspicions of his clan on both his account and Maggie’s, prove himself worthy of respect and able to lead … it’s a difficult balancing act, and it quickly becomes clear that he is prepared to work hard to claim his Scottish heritage and that it is important to him. I admired that about him, and soon found myself getting impatient on his behalf at all Maggie’s silly stratagems to try to get him to cry off, like trying to make herself look fat, or making him shirts that didn’t fit properly.
There’s a nice touch – or ridiculous co-incidence, depending how you want to look at it – when Maggie realises that she and Owen have always been bound to each other, and while the chemistry between the couple isn’t going to strip paint off the walls, it simmers along nicely as Maggie and Owen help and support each other and rediscover something of their old friendship.
Ultimately, The Groom Wore Plaid is an easy, undemanding read and the protagonists are attractive, though not compelling, characters. That, actually, is an apt description of the book – attractive but not compelling. I didn’t have strong feelings about it either way after I finished it; it’s a book I read and liked well enough, but not one I’m likely to revisit.