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Highlander Unmasked by Monica McCarty

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Highlander Unmasked
MacLeods of Skye Trilogy #2

Monica McCarty
Medieval Romance
Published in 2007

H/h - Alexander MacLeod/Margaret MacKinnon
Setting: Edinburgh/The Isle of Lewis/The Isle of Skye, 1605.

Read in Oct, 2011.
My rating:

                                                            [spoiler alert]

This close to being 4 stars, even a 4.5... For the 1st 10 chapters I was sure I’ll rate it at least 4 but boy oh boy after that, sheer, utter frustration! Alex drove me nuts with his confusion over his duty, clan and Meg. I mean I understood why he had this thing to prove himself but the way he hurt Meg over and over again thinking “this is for the best”, nope doesn’t work for me babe! They had great chemistry but both of you (by that I mean MM) ruined it for me.

In this book, Alex was very different indeed. There were some indications in Highlander Untamed that at one time, when Alex was acting as a chief for Rory, he made a colossal mistake while fighting with the MacDonalds. Dougal MacDonald killed his two cousins from the Lewis branch of MacLeods because of Alex’s decisions. This incident hung a black pall over his conscience. Still, Alex was much happier and fun loving than how we find him in his book. It’s been 4/5 years since that incident; he’d left Skye about 3 years ago to make a place of his own. Given to his natural born knack for leadership, it was obvious that Alex needed to make something for himself. But what he did was joined the a group of MacGregors, who were drove out of their lands by King James. There are political situations I don’t wanna explain but it’s obvious that the King wants to make colonies with the Lowlanders to subdue the Highland ‘barbarians’. Without any lands, the MacGregors are termed ‘outlaws’ by the so-called polished Lowlanders and the King himself. So Alex has been a warrior, fought battles accompanying them. His life has been very difficult, which left a mark on him and now he’s a very different man altogether.

Meg needs to find a husband soon because her father, the Laird of the MacKinnon is very ill. Being the only daughter to a father, whose only heir is called ‘Ian the Dumb’ isn’t very easy. Meg has always been very serious and absolutely scrupulous about her duties as the daughter of a Laird. Her older brother, Ian, isn’t a simpleton but not as aggressive and quick witted as a warrior and a chief must be. Since there were no more siblings, it’s upto Meg to marry well, to a man who’d look after her clan and won’t oust her brother from his position. Which is why Meg was on her way to Edinburgh to attend the court with her mother Rosalind. But Rosalind, unlike her daughter, is a romantic at heart, her own marriage being one of love. She was sure she’ll find the right man, with whom Meg would fall in love. Anyway, on their way, a gang of hired killers attacked. When she thought she’d be killed along with everyone else, a warrior on a big horse charged in for her rescue. It was a great scene, utterly fascinating and needless to say, I just adored it. How she looked at the warrior, fascinated by his skill, however deadly it was and his Godlike good looks (you know blonde, big, well muscled with sapphire eyes, ummm :p). How the said warrior would look at her and just stare at her. How she mouthed ‘thank you’ to him. I knew who it was of course, which is why I loved the intensity of this scene. Meg certainly couldn’t forget the man even if he left without saying a word to her after he had seen to their safety. At court, she’s being courted by men she doesn’t really want. Her one choice above all is Jamie Campbell, the young Chief of the Campbells; a nice, honorable Laird whom she likes very much and who returns the sentiment. Meg is always called as a ‘plain’ girl. I don’t know why. She has beautiful chestnut hair and big green eyes. She’s petite and sweet. It’s said that she’s not as vivaciously beautiful as her mother but her beauty is more of a hidden kind. Huh? Anyway I guess, being with a mother who is/was a known beauty can dredge up such nonsense from people. I understood her insecurities about her looks a lot. I totally sympathized because society can be cruel even if you really don’t deserve such rubbish. It also didn’t help that she was once engaged to an a$$ from her clan, who betrayed her with a serving maid. He made Meg believe he loved her. Of course, it was a lie. Sadly, Meg came upon them and discovered that he wanted the maid to be his mistress after he married Meg, just to become the chief, ousting Ian. So Meg has vowed not to be swayed by the notion of love ever again and act practical. Yet the thought of the warrior who saved them on that night comes to her unbidden. Even Elizabeth, Jamie’s sister and her very close friend, detects her distractions. But Meg keeps quite about her hidden longings. FYI: Elizabeth was the girl from the Campbells’ whom Rory was supposed to marry in Highlander Untamed.

Alex left Meg like that because he didn’t risk recognition. When he saw Meg’s mother, he knew who they were. Alex’s past these three years, along with Rory’s message that summoned him demanded he keep his identity hidden. From Rory, he got to know about King’s plans to colonize Lewis, which would not only be a threat to their cousins but also, the Highlanders altogether. So, now, Alex has to work as a spy in the court. He hates court and its jaded dualities like no other. Living as a warrior also changed his ways. He doesn’t look forward for a future beyond his duties and a purging of his guilty conscience over his cousins’ deaths 4 years ago. He wants revenge, on Dougal, for their killings as well as imprisoning him. It was also a matter of pride for Alex. It was about proving himself not only to his clan but mostly, to himself. I got this. I knew he needed this too. But what pissed me off, in the later parts of the book, was his stubbornness about this whole thing and dragging Meg into all these and then hurt her, over and over again. I mean it was such a mess! Anyway, Meg and Alex both formally meet each-other in the Jame’s court. Meg recognized him immediately, even though he was clean shaven and marvelously outfitted, as not only the Alex MacLeod who came to visit Dunakin (her home) when she was young but also as the warrior who saved her and her mother. But Alex refused to be recognized. Meg was very insistent to know why he’s refusing, not knowing his role as a spy. There were a few scenes where she’d barge in on him while he was conduction some sort of spy works. It made Alex mad as well as crazy for Meg. Well, yah, he wanted her from the 1st moment he saw her. I mean he SAW her beyond her ‘plain’ looks, which was something I LOVED. Even in court, he wanted her, with her atrocious dress sense. Meg was never a fashionista because she thought appearances don’t matter. But after sometimes, for Alex, she changed. I couldn’t fault her for it, neither being drawn to Alex like a magnet. Alex was sexy and intense. I loved it. These two had great chemistry going on. I just wanted them to hang everything and jump into bed together, fall in love and have their HEA. But, did that happen? Umm, it did but when it happened, I was this closed to tear my hair out from annoyance!

So I was enjoying their little interludes. Most of the times, they would see each-other coincidentally and end up kissing and touching. Meg never told her mother that Alex was the warrior who saved them knowing her romantic minded mother would jump into conclusions, even doing something drastic herself. And Rosalind did, not only she bring around young, handsome men but when she saw Alex, she was overjoyed, somehow knowing this is the right man for her daughter. Meg was exasperated yet couldn’t say anything to Rosalind. Meg also, by now, knew that Alex isn’t looking for a wife. She was a bit confused, as Alex intended her to be, about his role as their savior but nevertheless, she was attracted. She knew marrying Jamie would be the best choice but Alex was always on her mind. Once Alex was bribing a maid to talk to him about Argyll, Jamie’s cousin and the powerful Earl, who’s very close to James, when Meg came upon them. She was very hurt and jealous, even though she shouldn’t be. And Alex knew he has to explain to her. I mean I just felt even in this short a time, how they connected.

Kissing and touching were good but Meg decided she needs to make up her mind. Jamie was absent from the court when she met Dougal, not knowing what he did to Alex. In her mind, Meg was determined to marry Jamie for her clan’s sake but in her heart, all she truly wanted was Alex. Oh the heartache! Alex wasn’t helping at all either; kissing her senseless this moment while the other, pushing her away. And he did that throughout the story, so many times, that I wanted to kick him. It was Meg who came back every time he did such a thing, knowing there was something he was keeping from her. There are more incidents at court. Alex had some suspicions that Meg and her mother was meant to be murdered when one day Meg was attacked. She followed Alex and when they were coming back, it happened. After it was foiled, Alex kisses her and holds her, yet again pushes her away when Dougal comes to take her back. The attack was from a spurned suitor, another ambitious man of the MacKinnons’. Then Meg decides to take matter in her own hands, and literally- to seduce Alex if it’s necessary. I thought it was foolish. Alex needed some incentive to think things through, see things out of the hazy clouds of his vengeance but Meg was patient enough, as she proved again and again in the story. Well, I don’t have such a virtuous mind so it pissed me off, how Alex treated her.

By this time, when Meg took the decision, she’d already told Jamie (who was very eager, and not out of ambition, to marry Meg) that she can’t marry him. In the meantime, Rory came to the court with Isabel. Isabel met Meg, asking her about Alex, hearing things about them. Meg tells her Alex is not interested in marriage. Isabel tells her a little of what happened to him in the fight in the shadows of the great Cuillin Mountains 4 yrs ago. Meg is instantly sympathetic and decides she’d never say ‘yes’ to Dougal; not that she ever liked the man! Alex has already informed Rory on what the King is planning to do. The information was quite hard earned since he was always being distracted by Meg, one way or the other. Rory tells Alex that he doesn’t really have to prove anything. But Alex insists he has to go to Lewis and help his MacLeod cousins. It was a matter of do it somehow or die trying. This is why Alex, even knowing his weakness (something not just lust) for Meg that he kept on pushing her away or hurting her on the process. So, the day before he was supposed to be leaving for Lewis, Meg comes to his room. She tries, at first, with words to reason with him, as to why he’s the best match for her and for her clan. But of course, inwardly, she already knew she’d fallen in love with him. It was out of her own longing that she wanted him. Alex held back. And God it made me angry. When they finally make love, Meg had to go through a lot of hurtful rejections from Alex. But her persistence brought Alex down to his knees. To tell you the truth, all the love scenes were initiated by Meg (and I loved it) because Alex, even though being crazy about her, held back. WOW but that’s not sexy, honey! That was a completely moronic thing to do.

After that they’re discovered by Jamie, who was worried about Meg not being in her room. Having a good idea who she might be seeing, he barges into Alex’s room. So Alex is now honor bound to propose to her. Meg won’t have it, in her heart she’s not happy at all. She’s confused about the whole thing but says yes. But Alex realizes it (again) might put her in danger, her being attached to him so he decides to do something to break it up. OMFG, someone brain me with something and put me out of my misery... I’d rather kill myself than seeing this happening. I was going like NOOOOOOOOOOOO! I mean WTF was happening between these two? Meg was so happy the next morning but eavesdropping on Alex talking with another Lord broke her heart and she’s disillusioned again. She couldn’t believe her Alex would only want to marry her for her lands and money. Knowing that she went through it once and Alex was so totally lying, broke my heart too. She breaks the engagement, returns to Dunakin in Skye. Alex goes on to his mission in Lewis.

But Meg can’t forget the man. She feels listless. Her mother is worried, suspected a few things herself so she forces Meg’s father to come out with the truth about Alex. Being a Laird of a clan in Skye and a Highlander, MacKinnon Laird was also involved with this rebellion just as the MacLeods. He explains to Meg why the fight in Lewis is necessary, how the King is planning a vile colonization called the ‘Fife Adventurers’ and so on. Meg understands a lot of the things and immediately forgives Alex. But she was also hurt that even after being this efficient with her duties, her father held back these information just because she’s a girl. Whoa but it gotta hurt! Anyway, Jamie visits Dunakin to propose to Meg again. He knew what Alex was planning to do and told Alex that he’s willing to marry her no matter what. Have to say, I absolutely liked Jamie so I’m now very interested in the Campbell trilogy, where I know Jamie has his own book. But Meg refuses him, knowing there is a chance that Alex was lying that day. Jamie was very nice even after all these rejections but Meg explains he has a right to find someone he’d fall in love with. I agree! But, Jamie explains to her it’s very much possible that Alex might die in the battle. Meg can’t think of it. Jamie, knowing he’s making danger for himself with Argyll and the King, informs Meg that Alex is really in trouble because Dougal was planning to kill him and the other MacLeods. Meg now HAS TO go to Lewis to give Alex the message. I don’t know if I should call her stupid because it did make a lot of trouble. But, I wasn’t that annoyed knowing how much she loved him and just couldn’t trust anyone with the news.

Alex, in Lewis, was missing Meg just as much and despaired that he’d lost her forever. He thought by now Meg is engaged to Jamie. But when he finds Meg on the shores of Lewis, with Jamie in toe, he’s as happy as he’s utterly mad. How could she risk so much by coming here? While they talk and kiss and Alex was rejecting it all again... well, it was very very frustrating because no matter how much Meg tried to tell/show him her feelings, even saying ILU to him, Alex kept firm on his decision of not to encourage her. But oh, he wanted to make love to her, don’t think he didn’t. Meg knew that too. Even though he rejected her again, just to prove herself, she had to make advance (again). Lord, I was so very irritated yet couldn’t bring myself to dislike Alex. Again, what a mess! After her touches Alex decides what the heck and gives in. Well, by now, the book has lost me and I just wanna finish it. I mean one can take so much of such stuff! Since it was already night, they stay on Lewis. The next day, Meg begs Alex to let her stay with him but Alex refuses. When she was on her way to Skye, Dougal kidnaps the whole party, to bring Alex down. Alex didn’t know any of these but he took care according to the information Meg brought. He almost led his men to the castle they were supposed bring down when Dougal comes out with Meg. After that it was full of action when Meg got hurt. But she was so worried about Alex and his duties, she didn’t tell him how bad her injuries were. She begs the healer woman to lie to Alex about it so that he can go fight for his clan. WOW, I don’t know what to say. It was utterly foolish yet there was no doubt in my mind that she loved Alex with all her heart. 2 days later, Jamie’s missive informs Alex that Meg is very ill...

Ok, hope I covered it all. I liked the book a lot but I wish the romance part prevailed more than all these confusion over what to do and what not to do. 3.75 stars. I loved yet was saddened by the author’s/historical note. It seems like, historically, the MacLeod victory was short lived and Neil MacLeod, whom we see with Alex in the story, was originally caught and hanged later. Oh no! :(


Anyway, I’ve done more research and the following links might interest you:
            Yes, Alexander MacLeod, brother to Rory Mor, did marry one Margaret MacKinnon and fathered 2 sons. But, it seems like the real Alex married twice and had a daughter from the 1st marriage. Anyway, I prefer this version more. :p

Favorite Quotes:

He stilled for a moment, savoring the sensation of being buried deep inside her, of filling her, of being joined together in God’s heavenly embrace. He held her gaze and pushed deeper, shuddering with a wave of pure tenderness. The look in her eyes stripped him to the core. He couldn’t move, wanting to preserve the moment, wanting never to forget how it felt to experience perfection.

Her eyes widened. “My.” She looked at him hesitantly and then bit her lip. “This might be more difficult than I realized. You’re a large man, aren’t you?” She blushed. “I mean, all over.”
He managed to nod. Yes, damn it. And getting excruciatingly larger by the minute.
             He actually nodded, OMG, that was so sweet, funny yet sexy! :p


A picture of the Cuillin Mountains, where the defeat at the Corrie of the Foray for the MacLeods happened and played such a crucial role in Alex’s life:
Cuillin Mountains, The Isle of Skye

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Punya
I'm a simple girl. I love to read in my spare time and do reviews the books I read. I also write, mostly songs/poems, though I'm not published. I love music and traveling. Sometimes, I wish I could live inside a book, having my own HEA. :)
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