The Rock by Monica McCarty (Highland Guard #11)

The Rock by Monica McCartyAvailable: Now Amazon/B&N

Type: Historical Romance

Publisher: Ballantine

My Copy: Sent

Reviewer: Michelle

The first time he caught sight of Elizabeth Douglas, Thomas MacGowan thought she was a princess. To the son of the castle blacksmith, the daughter of the powerful Lord of Douglas might as well be. When it becomes clear that his childhood companion will never see him as a man she could love, Thom joins Edward Bruce’s army as a man-at-arms to try to change his lot. If he’s harbored a secret hope that he could close the gap between them, he faces the cold, hard truth when Elizabeth comes to him for help. She might need the boy who used to climb cliffs to rescue her brother from the hands of the English, but she would never see the son of a smith as a man worthy of her hand.

It has been a while since I’ve read any of the Highland Guard novels, so I was more than happy to delve back into a series I’ve enjoyed immensely. What’s not to love when you are reading about clever, strong, sexy, talented (did I say sexy?) Scottish warriors? The “Phantoms” or the Highland Guard as they call themselves, is a collection of the most elite warriors in Scotland. They can all ride, swim and fight with the best of them, but it is the unique talent that they each bring to the group that makes them the choice soldiers in their king’s army.

The Rock features Thomas MacGowan. Lowly born, the son of a blacksmith falls in love with the castle darling, Elizabeth Douglas the first time he sees her. Childhood friendship and companionship turns into a deep and abiding love – for Thom. Even though society deems her out of his reach, he pines for the daughter of his lord with everything in him. Elizabeth is completely oblivious to the change in Thom’s feelings. Even as they become adults, to her, he is simply her “Thommy”, the boy/man she could always count on to save her from skinned knees, to offer company when she was lonely and to cheer her up when life brought her down. It never even occurred to her that Thom could have romantic feelings for her. Her station in life had been ingrained in her and she always knew she’d have to make a successful marriage with one of her peers.

Realizing that Elizabeth is out of his reach, both in society’s view and even in her own eyes, Thom leaves his blacksmith background behind him and works toward changing his life for the better. This is where the Highland Guard comes in. After working his way up through the ranks of Edward Bruce’s army, he catches the attention of the Guard. He may never excel in sword fighting or on horseback, but he can climb, and it’s his skill at scaling even the most impossible cliffs that brings the Guard around to recruiting him for a mission.

A successful raid capturing a seemingly impenetrable castle, led by “the Rock”, practically secures Thom’s place with the Guard. Having saved Bruce’s nephew during the raid, Thom is rewarded with knighthood and a baronry. Suddenly he has everything he’s ever wanted – and needed – to secure a future for himself. Unfortunately Elizabeth is still beyond his reach, betrothed to the man whose life he had saved.

Thom never thought the separation between him and Elizabeth in society’s eyes was insurmountable. He loved her enough to make up for anything she might lose by being with him. What he can’t break through is her fear – fear of being destitute, fear of crossing acceptable boundaries by marrying beneath her, fear of defying her brother (a Highland Guard warrior and a powerful lord in his own right). Elizabeth nearly ruined this book for me. I hated her for most of it, and I almost put it down after the first third of the story. Thomas McGowan is probably the best hero McCarty has written, though, and I loved him enough to keep reading. I’m glad I did.

Even though I didn’t agree with Elizabeth – ever – I understood why she acted the way she did. I can’t pretend to know what living in Scotland during the 1300s was like or how it feels to have society dictate who you can marry. I am a romantic through and through, so it galled me to no end that she was so blind to her own feelings, and to those of the incredible man standing right in front of her. Thom would give up everything, and give her the world, if she would just say the word. I loved that he remained true to himself and didn’t roll over for her when she came crawling back. She had to work hard to find her way back into his heart, but to her credit, she didn’t give up.

If you can get past the fact that The Rock has a heroine you most likely won’t appreciate for most of it, this book will woo you the way Thom wooed Elizabeth. I loved the cameos by the other members of the Highland Guard (and their wives), and Elizabeth’s sister-in-law Joanna was the likable, sensible female character readers will need to counter Elizabeth’s self-centered actions. Fans of the Highland Guard series will appreciate Thom for the hero he becomes.

I give The Rock by Monica McCarty 3.75 stars


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