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Highland Rebel by Judith James

Monday, April 23, 2012

Highland Rebel
A Tale of a Rebellious Lady and a Traitorous Lord

Judith James
Historical Romance
Published in 2009

H/h - James Sinclair, The Earl of Carrick and Carlyle/Catherine Drummond, The Countess of Moray
Setting: London, Ireland and Scotland, in the era of James II, probably 1685-1690.

Read in Apr, 2012.
My rating:

                                                   [spoiler alert]

Personally, Highland Rebel was a mixed read for me. I felt emotions varying from laughter to annoyance while I was at it. So far, I don’t think I’ve read a Romance set in the Restoration-era England and so, again, I totally appreciated JJ’s Historical research. This book started out with a bang; the hero, a real charmer who looks at life with mockery and does whatever it takes to survive. The heroine, a fiery Highland beauty, made me instantly like her a lot. But as I said, in the course of the story, I came across plenty of let downs and pet peeves of mine in the story that hindered my full enjoyment of it.

Let me tell you first that, as I write this review, I’ve had a tremendous change of heart where Jamie is concerned. But that wasn’t the case while I was reading it. I will try to point the reasons out as I go, but for now, into the story. Jamie had a bad childhood with a puritanical (and hypocritical) father and an adulterous mother. None of his parents wanted him and the reasons were so selfish, made me sad. His parents always quarreled. Jamie was as unwanted as an abandoned street child and I felt for the young boy who had no one to care for him. His father condemned him as a bastard, because of his mother’s continuous cheating, and wanted no part of him. Jamie had an elder half brother from his father’s first marriage, who was supposed to be the heir but died young. Jamie wouldn’t have gotten the title of the Earl of Carlyle but he had it anyway later. Even as a teenager, when he was sent away for studies, Jamie wasn’t like his friends. He didn’t drink, gamble or whore but was a studious one. He loved learning and he learned by his own volition. He changed his ways when he ended up in Charles II’s court and learned all that entails the so-called ‘court intrigue’; adultery/cheating/drinking/gambling/whoring etc. He needed to make a mark to stay alive in the vicious court. He betrayed Charles and helped James indeed. But TBH, by no means, I can call Jamie a whiny, lazy arsed rake. He might give that impression but he wasn’t at all. He was quick witted and industrious. He had the talent of a chameleon to blend in and copy. He was learned and used his brain. He was amoral, immoral, sold his loyalty as he saw fit and spied to take care of himself. He had his own set of rules, one of which was only to trust and take care of no one but himself. Of course, I gradually came to know about all these things about his past but before that, he did some stuff that annoyed the hell outta me. Jamie has an amazing sense of humor which can’t be denied. Many-a-times, I laughed and shook my head by this quip or that by him. He saw life as a big mockery because without it he can’t really survive the pain (as he once told Cat when she kept on asking why he doesn’t take anything seriously). So when he met Catherine, or Cat, in the battlefield, Jamie had no idea the kind of trouble he’s getting into. I don’t mean trouble in a bitter way. Jamie and some other mercenaries just attacked some clans in Highlands and won. When those men found Cat, who came along with her clan in search of her erstwhile brother, they wanted to torture and rape her before killing her. Something vaguely like conscience struck Jamie and he just wanted to save this damsel in distress. In his mocking ways, he pronounces her will marry her, there that instant, the ultimate purpose of that was to save her. Cat doesn’t know what’s happening since she’s disoriented from her wounds and so on but nods when the big, handsome man asks her to. They’re married by the priest that accompanied then in the battlefield. The so called wedding night scene was hilarious to say the least. I can’t really explain it, so you have to read it. Jamie was totally interested to consummate their marriage, not only because he’s always up for a good tumble, but also, he wanted this spunky girl all to himself. But Cat doesn’t give in easily and Jamie makes other plans, so that no one can question the consummation. He also wanted the option of annulment open when the times are alright. Cat gives him a few marks to remember her by but Jamie doesn’t hurt her in return. At night, Cat’s family comes to rescue her and while Jamie was out to check on the commotion they created, Cat escapes. She’s pretty sure she won’t see this English again in her life but she can certainly use her ‘married’ status to her convenience.

Cat was her father’s only daughter and grew up being spoiled by him. She was the apple of the man’s eyes. Cat is a countess in her own right, as her father was an Earl. She also grew up to be a tomboy, learned to fight, fish and skills no lady would ever practice. She was sure even though as a girl she’s not supposed to be a laird, her father would make her his successor. But when she was about 8 yrs old (here, again, the ages of the protagonists, Jamie or Cat, weren’t clearly mentioned), her father remarried with the pressure from the clan women who thought Cat needs the influence of a woman if she expects to capture a husband. Her French step-mother didn’t like the Highlands, though she was kind to Cat. She took Cat and her infant half-brother, Alistair, to France where Cat learned the ways to the court. She didn’t like the shallowness of it at all, neither did she like the dresses ladies wear (she feels comfortable in breeches and shirt) but she did her job. After returning, Cat learned her father has other plans for her; to make a match that would advance their clan’s interest, also someday lead the clan. Alistair still wasn’t really fit to act as a laird for his volatile temperament, although he’s ‘the heir’ to her father. Neither was her cousin Donald. All of these were logical conclusions but Cat, being the unconventional girl, rebels. She is shocked and really disappointed, and then becomes angry. They had a spat over it and soon afterwards, the old laird died suddenly. Cat regrets it all now, but what is causing trouble is Donald, the new laird trying to get her to marry someone she doesn’t care about. Her uncle Jarrod and cousin Rory care for her a lot but they can’t do much about Donald’s decision. Then her stupid brother, who hated the Highlanders as much as his mother, was causing trouble for them. Cat came to this battle to save him from his latest scrap but he flew before she could. Now that she’s ‘married’, she can save herself from the marriage. None of her relatives are happy about this, they’re even suspicious but they give in, for now.

Jamie was up behind his erstwhile wife soon after she escaped. The ever capable English made it through the wilds of Highlands and found her out soon enough with his skills. Jerrod and the others of Cat’s clan arrest him and torture him. At first, Cat doesn’t say a thing for she was scared of his life. And she was shocked, knowing this man really came for her. She saves a wounded Jamie and takes him in a secret hideout of hers to take care of him. Cat doesn’t really want him to be here, so once he’s healed, she’ll send him on his way. In the course of taking care of the man, funny things happen. I loved how Jamie would find her breasts no matter the situation, which proved him to be a seasoned womanizer. It became prominent when in his fevered state, he’d try to kiss and caress Cat, calling her by other woman’s name (to my utter frustration, we get to meet some of his sluts later in the story). Cat wasn’t a master like Jamie so she didn’t know what to make of it. But she knew she wanted him and yet, if he stays, there’s no way he’ll be alive. One day, in one of those fevered moments, Jamie ‘sort of’ consummates the marriage but he has no memory of it. Cat doesn’t tell him. When he regains consciousness later, Jamie is determined to abduct his pretty bride and take her with him. But Cat beats him to this, sending some of her trusty men to bonk him on the head and carry him out of the Highlands.

A year passes by in between. Jamie can’t believe what his bride did to him but sometimes he did think of her. He was again living his dissolute life, whoring and gambling. We get to see some detailed scenes of him with two whores at a time and more from his own musings. More examples were ahead. Not something I care to know about, thank you! His life was a mess at the moment, James being mad at him for marrying a Highland savage and not the heiress he wanted Jamie to marry and Jamie apparently couldn’t convince his monarch about it. Jamie had his life planned, to marry that heiress and have his own lands and money. A wife who would never question him when he’d obviously stray, as he won’t hers. But his world became upside down from the moment he met Cat. I was mad that Jamie was ‘technically’ cheating on her, no matter the situation because I have zero tolerance for cheating. But I also understood that they were strangers and this was an unwanted marriage to begin with. Yet I was very annoyed. Then came the information on his thousand mistresses, here and there, ruining the fun for me. It seems like everywhere he goes, there are a few; be it England or Ireland, wealthy women or barmaids! We get to learn that to pay his luxurious life and the debts his father left him, Jamie has taken up pleasuring wealthy women, many of them were his old ‘intimate acquaintances’. In return, they paid off his debts. So can I call him a gigolo? As I said, he did anything to survive. He took care of his servants, pets and his women, the throngs of them. None of his whores can complain about his prowess in bed or his genial behavior towards them. This bugged me to no end as I can’t, JUST CAN’T stand reading such stuffs about a hero. I just can’t trust or respect a man like that. So, needless to say, I wasn’t impressed with Jamie that much. I didn’t like his shallow living, neither did I like the bunch he frequented with, the Merry Gentlemen, one of whom were the notorious Duke of Buckingham. The only person, apparently, Jamie cared about was his Irish servant Sullivan. They have an old history, I can’t go into details but he saved Sullivan and his mother, and now Jamie is the owner of Sullivan’s estate in Ireland. Sullivan is actually his friend of sort and has a partnership of breeding horses with Jamie. But here in London, he acts as Jamie’s servant.

Anyway, one day, Cat suddenly returns in Jamie’s life as she kicked him out of hers. She finds him in his house, with whores, drinks and cards, with Buckingham and their cronies. So far, no one believed in his Highland wife, until she stepped into his house. Buckingham, the lecher, is interested in her instantly, which Jamie doesn’t like. So, he’s possessive of his wife. I thought this should be fun, but *sign* it wasn’t. Jamie’s embarrassed the way Cat found him. Cat is hurt too but she’s here on business and soon she states her case. There is trouble brewing in her clan. Cat’s people can’t anymore be convinced of her marriage since her husband never claimed her. Cat won’t marry and so she came to London to find him. She’s also going to meet James (II) for a trade of her finest whiskey. Cat doesn’t want to go back to the Highlands yet, maybe never. As Jamie states how he’s been suffering so far, Cat makes a deal. She has good influence over the King and so she’ll help him get back to his good graces. For that Jamie has to be a faithful and attentive husband. Cat doesn’t expect him to be faithful though so she asks him to be discreet. How sad, really. Jamie mocks the whole situation by telling her he’d play the besotted husband for the fun. After he gets back his lands and his place in court, Cat would leave him with a good amount of money for saving her life and so on and have the marriage annulled. So they make their debut as a couple soon. I was kinda bored in this part because I didn’t feel any chemistry between them. Yes, they were good friends and that’s all I got. I didn’t like it much. At court, James notices Cat and Jamie knows what that might entail, something he doesn’t like. We get to see one of his ex-mistresses, a vindictive and vain b*tch, making trouble for him because he won’t go back to her. This b*tch made troubles for them more than once, once on Jamie’s life when Cat was with him. Another thing that bugged me was Cat never confronting Jamie about his cheating and becoming more and more besotted with him as she got to know him, the tales and array of his mistresses notwithstanding. In court, it seems like he has slept with almost every woman there. I don’t know how Cat stood these tales and all that snicker! Jamie was always honest about this part of his life, ruthlessly so IMO. He never made a secret about his womanizing. I didn’t like it that a fiery girl like Cat took it all in, not making a sound of complaint or when she did complaint, she couldn’t hold it for long with Jamie. The charmer played his parts and she forgot.

These parts of the story bored me much. Even though I liked reading the historical facts and figures, I wanted something solid to bloom between them. But my wish didn’t come true for a long, long time. After almost a year of being together, touring London and making a mark at court, Cat wants to be more intimate. They play this on and off game, never going all the way, mostly Jamie pushing her away because he thought about the annulment, not knowing the marriage has already been consummated. Cat was a bit scared of telling him but when she finally does, Jamie mocks the whole thing like it was fun. Cat is angry (and she should be) but as I told you before, she can’t hold her anger where Jamie is concerned. Soon afterwards, some trouble came Jamie’s way and he was marked as a traitor (that slut finally got to him through James). Jamie was concerned what to do since all his English properties are being forfeited. Cat advises him to move to his property in Ireland; they should be safe there as long as the King forgets. On the way to Ireland, they have some fun. Jamie shows Cat around, along with an old cottage he uses on occasion. As they settle down with Sullivan’s family, Jamie starts working on a real treason. He would support William of Orange, for he thinks James isn’t a worthy King. Here, when he goes to his tavern, we get to meet one of his sluts, the owner herself. Apparently whenever Jamie is in Ireland, he’s here for food, drink and a good f*ck with her. I was pissed at how annoyingly the woman start coming onto him, rubbing and fondling him in front of the others and pouting that he won’t ‘have a tumble’ whereas he’s never refused her before. YUK! Jamie is very nice to her (OMG, WHY?!) when refusing, like they’re discussing the dinner menu! Now his mind is full of his wife. At home, Cat doesn’t know what he’s been doing and so, she takes up on seducing Jamie. Soon they end up having sex. For next few months, sex is great, even though Cat wasn’t sure of his faithfulness. They have this constant clash about Jamie’s womanizing almost till the end, which did make me question about their HEA. When there is no trust, is it possible? But when Cat tries to talk to him about the other aspects of their relationship, he’d simply ignore it. As Jamie plans his betrayal to James, he would work as the bearer of the message to William. He’d be away for a longtime. Once he mentions it to Cat. He sees Cat as a good friend (though Cat already said ILU to him, which he ignored as usual by being insensitive), something he’d never done to any other women in his life. Cat isn’t happy about his decision. She won’t break James’s trust because the King had been kind to her people. This and also Jamie’s rejection of her love strain their relationship. Jamie is scared that he’s losing her but he has to do his job. So before he leaves, Jamie writes a note to Cat. When she finds the note, Cat is mad and follows him, only to find him in the same tavern, with the same slut all over him- still rubbing and making propositions. Jamie later finds her out, watching him with cold eyes but he doesn’t say anything. Funny thing was, even though Cat was sure he was cheating on her (It does really hurt, huh Cat? What did you think it’d make you feel?), she was still hoping that when he’s back, they’ll talk about it. In the meantime, her uncle Jarrod comes to take her back home, informing her about the trouble in the clan. Cat also learns some distressing news, like Donald and Rory has died in a clan feud sometimes ago. Even though she wanted this marriage to work, Cat finally thinks it’s time to say goodbye. She makes sure that Jamie would get his money once it’s all over. She leaves him with a letter, where she hopes that someday love will find him.

Meanwhile, Jamie is restless because he has been missing Cat too much. The lout now realizes how callous he’s been, now that they’ve been apart for sometimes. Here, again, I find that the H and h are apart for long long time, which seems like a favorite with JJ. I can’t say I find it appealing though. I don’t like their trouble to drag on for months and years end. When he returns, Jamie finds Cat gone and even though her letter explains a lot and no hate towards him, he’s still angry. MORON! Months pass by, William claims the throne, Jamie’s lands and titles are given back, women are still after him but Jamie, for the first time in his life, isn’t interested in any of it. His life is dull without Cat. Then, there’s a battle in Highlands with the British, and Jamie knew he has to save and take care of the only thing that gives his life meaning; his Cat. You see, this is where I began to see the real man underneath, though sadly, it took him frustratingly long time to come out. I loved the part where Jamie rescues Cat and how they couldn’t stop making love, since no matter what, they missed each-other genuinely. And there was no question about the love between them, as Jamie finally confesses about his feelings (and that he has indeed been faithful to her all these time). You’d think that was the end but noooo. One more time apart was awaiting them, I was really annoyed this time but thankfully, it didn’t drag for long. The ending scene was beautiful. I loved it and cried. In the end, I felt this book was worth my time, simply to watch Jamie fall. I wished them all the best! I didn’t mind that there wasn’t an epilogue though. 3.75 stars.

 Favorite Quote:
"I love you, Catherine. You claimed my heart soon after we met, a beautiful Highland selkie who kept me safe within her cave. No one ever came to my rescue before. I laughed and I teased you, but I'd never been so deeply moved. While I was waiting at The Hague, I promised myself I'd tell you as soon as I saw you again." He wet a taut nipple with his tongue and blew on it gently. "It made me very happy to admit it. You're the only one I've ever truly loved." He turned his attention to the other tip, one hand plumping her as the other tickled its peak. She whimpered and he soothed her with a wet kiss. She moaned, gripping his shoulders as her heels dug in the ground. He lifted his head and looked straight into her eyes. "I feared I'd lost you when I saw you in that river. You're the only thing that gives my life meaning, Catherine. I love you." His lips brushed the corner of her mouth. "I love you," he breathed against her lips. "I love you!" He enfolded her in his arms and thrust his tongue deep in her mouth, claiming her in a voluptuous kiss.


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