Monica McCarty, The Hawk, Ballentine Books, 2010
The Legend of the Highland Guard continues...Handpicked by Robert the Bruce to help him in his quest to free Scotland from English rule, the Highland Guard is an elite fighting force. But when Bruce is forced to flee, his bid for freedom rests on the shoulders of one extraordinary warrior.
Erik MacSorley is an unrivaled seafarer who has never encountered a woman he could not win - until he drags a wet, half-naked "nursemaid" out of the waters off the Irish coast. Ellie's ordinary appearance belies the truth: She is in fact Lady Elyne de Burgh, the spirited daughter of the most powerful noble in Ireland. Worse, this irrisistible woman is determined to prove herself immune to Erik's charms - a challenge he cannot resist....he is a man driven by loyalty, and she is a woman with secrets that could jeopardize Bruce's chance to reclaim his throne. As the battle for king and country sounds across the shores, will Ellie's love be enough to finally tame the legend known as the Hawk?
The second in this fascinating new series, The Hawk, by Monica McCarty starts off with a bang. Picking right up where The Chief left off, Robert the Bruce battles dispair reliving the bloody battle steming from the Guard's storming of Dunaverty Castle and his desperate flight out of Scotland by way of treacherous sea channels in the midst of a raging storm. Erik MacSorley, code name Hawk, captains the ship with infinite skill, eluding both Mother Nature and the English Navy hot on their trail. The victory at sea inspires the Bruce and he and his Guard make new battle plans that rely heavily on the skills and abilities of Hawk to garner support from the Irish and coordinate soldiers to support the Bruce's next attack.
The eldeset unmarried daughter of the Earl of Ulster, Ellie has assumed care of her siblings since her mother's death while waiting for her father to arrange a marriage that benefits his coffers and political alliances to King Edward (even though his eldest daughter is the wife of Robert Bruce). Goaded by her younger sister into leaping into the sea as a part of a pagan celebration, Ellie finds herself a witness to a gathering of ruffians and pirates. Hawk intercedes on her behalf, saving Ellie from the leader of a band of Irish rogues he was hiring to join the Bruce's attack. Unable to return the bedraggled "nursemaid" home out of concern she would spoil their plans, Hawk takes Ellie to a remote island where he and his crew are holed up waiting for the battle plans to fall into place.
The author has created a strong, likeable heroine in Lady Elyne. Her intelligence allows her to pick up and assimilate unspoken cues about her captors, surroundings and piece together the complete story. Ellie hides her identity from Hawk intially because she believes him to be a pirate and later because she realizes his feelings would change if he knew the truth. Undazzled by Hawk's easy charm and good looks, Ellie takes the time to unearth the real Hawk and this proves to be his undoing - how can he not love the one person who has taken the time to get to know him?
Erik MacSorley obviously succeeds with women and Ellie does not represent his usual "type". At first he finds her plain but enjoys her wit. Their banter is well crafted and the sexual tension builds at a nice pace. It is quite enjoyable to see this Lothario fall under the unassuming spell of a kind and unpretentious woman. When he finally makes his move on Ellie, he vows not to take her virginity but that does not mean their encounters are less than hot - in one sexy scene Hawk and Ellie give new meaning to the old Viking practice of a "steam bath"!
The dialogue is well written, the action scenes are fast paced and highly entertaining. In The Hawk, Ms. McCarty manages to drive the storyline with more story and less history. She manages to recap events that have previously occurred or are occurring simultaneously to Hawk and Ellie's tale without getting verbose or muddying the focus of the main characters' story. While completely frustrated with Erik's reluctance to acknowledge his feelings and the author's cruel penchant for dragging the reader to the end before a glimpse of HEA possibilities, one cannot help adoring this perfect odd-couple!
All in all, I would have to say this is one of my new favorite Highlander series! Ms. McCarty has certainly thrown down the gauntlet - Highlanders + Elite Ops = Hot, Hot, Hot! This series holds the potential to appeal to more than just your average historical readers, open minds should check it out. I give this hot Highland Guard novel 5 Chocolate Covered Strawberries-worth of kilty goodness!
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