Love With a Scottish Outlaw (Highland Weddings #3) by Gayle Callen

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The last thing clan chief Duncan Carlyle expects to encounter in the rain-soaked highlands was Catriona Duff, daughter of the corrupt earl responsible for the price on his head. Yet Duncan finds himself sheltering the beauty who claims to have lost her memory. Catriona could be the key to stopping her father, but only if Duncan can keep her identity—and his dangerously powerful desire—to himself.

Duncan may have rescued Catriona, but the gruff outlaw clearly doesn’t trust her. She’s moved by his mission to rescue kidnapped children, but hiding in a network of caves means living in close quarters with everyone—including Duncan. And even as Catriona struggles to remember her past, the present draws her ever closer to this enigmatic man…and to the secret that could change everything.

Rating: C

I said, somewhere in a review in the dim and distant past, that I’m not a great fan of Scottish-set romances because the plotlines are generally so formulaic.  You know the sort of thing – Girl from Clan X meets Boy from Clan Y and they fall in love even though their respective clans are deadly enemies.  Girl from Clan X is usually all flashing eyed, flame-haired feistiness; Boy from Clan Y is a kilted hunk who is filled with lust in spite of his distrust of Girl from Clan X because of who her father is.  Yes, all romances are formulaic to an extent, but for some reason, most of those set north of the border (with the notable exception of Grace Burrowes’ MacGregor series) don’t deviate much from that particular plotline.  And I’m afraid that Love with a Scottish Outlaw sticks pretty much to that pattern.

In the first book in Gayle Callen’s Highland Weddings series, the heroine, Catriona Duff was The Wrong Bride because her nasty uncle, the Earl of Aberfoyle, had manipulated the hero, Hugh McCallum into making off with her in the belief that Riona was his (Aberfoyle’s) daughter instead of his niece.  Hugh and Riona fell in love, which risked the fragile accord between the Duffs (family name of the earls of Aberfoyle) and the McCallums being broken and would likely lead to bloodshed.  Fortunately, the earl’s son, Owen, stepped up to marry Hugh’s sister, Maggie, and thus averted armed conflict between the clans.

So now it’s turn for the other Catriona Duff – known as Cat – to get her HEA with a Hunky Highlander, who duly arrives in the form of the eponymous Scottish outlaw, Duncan Carlyle.  When he tried to speak out against the disgusting practice of rounding up the local orphaned (and some not-so-orphaned) children and selling them as slaves to plantation owners in the Americas, Duncan was not believed by those in authority, who were clearly taking back-handers from the people behind the practice, the most notable of which was Aberfoyle.  Duncan was arrested, and when he escaped, a price was put on his head, and he now lives in the caves beneath the ruins of his ancestral home with only a few trusted clansmen and women, unwilling to live on his estate and thereby endanger the other members of his clan.

He is riding to the caves when he comes across a bedraggled and injured woman staggering across his path.  He has nowhere else to take her but the caves – fortunately, she is in no fit state to take note of his route, but he is cautious even so, for he has recognised her as the daughter of his greatest enemy, the Earl of Aberfoyle.  The woman, however, has no idea of who, what or where she is; she doesn’t know her name or how she came to be lying in the mud alongside two dead men close to where Duncan finds her.  Duncan decides that concealing Cat’s whereabouts will give Aberfoyle a taste of the sort of heartbreak he doles out to others by kidnapping their children, and thinks that perhaps he can turn the situation to his advantage later on; but for now, he concentrates on getting her to the caves so her injuries can be tended to.

Most of the first half of the book consists of Cat lusting after Duncan while telling herself that it’s not fair on either of them to start something while she has no idea of who she is; and Duncan lusting after Cat in spite of the fact that her father is his enemy AND his guilt over the fact that he knows who she is and hasn’t told her.

When she is able to, Cat mucks in with the women in the caves, cooking, cleaning, washing and mending while learning more about Duncan’s schemes to thwart the child-traffickers and his method of supporting his clan by ‘diverting’ the shipments of smuggled whisky that frequently cross Carlyle lands.

Of course, when she remembers everything and realises that Duncan has lied to her, Cat is furious with him, but can’t deny that she admires his dedication to his clan and most particularly to freeing the kidnapped children and either reuniting them with their families or finding them good homes.  She’s in love with him, of course, but can’t trust him ever again – and without trust, there can never be anything between them.  Fortunately, love finds a way.

I finished reading Love With a Scottish Outlaw only a few hours before starting this review, and already I am finding it difficult to recall much about the book, other than the first names of the principal characters, that much of the story takes place in a cave and that there’s a sub-plot about child-slavers.  And while the latter is an interesting plot choice, it feels like a tacked-on development in order to give Duncan something suitably heroic to do – otherwise, he’d just be lurking around his caves all day.

The two central characters are bland, and there’s little chemistry between them; we briefly meet Cat’s brother, Owen, and his sometimes clairvoyant wife, Maggie – who, luckily (!) has had a premonition that Cat and Duncan will be together and happy – but quite honestly, the whole book is an unmemorable and somewhat formulaic addition to what has been a just average series, and I’m not going to recommend it.

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