This installment in Jennifer Ashley’s Highland Pleasures is a bit of a departure, as it takes the focus off the MacKenzie family and lands on one of their in-laws, the deeply tortured Elliot McBride. You may remember, Elliot is one of Ainsley’s brothers (making him Cameron’s in-law.) He was a soldier in India who was taken captive and abused for nearly a year. Now he suffers from major PTSD and everyone thinks he is a bit crazy.
The story kicks off with our heroine, Juliana, being jilted at the altar. The would-be groom has eloped with his piano teacher and Juliana faces ruin. Until she runs into her old friend and childhood crush Elliot, asleep in the neighboring chapel. She fills him in on her misfortune and before they know it, he accepts her offhanded proposal that he marry her instead. The two get married that very day and hit the road for his old castle in the country.
Juliana learns very quickly just how damaged Elliot really is. He forgets reality; he has flashbacks and outbursts –and can even get violent. She dedicates herself to helping him heal and rebuilding the crumbling home where they live. But it’s a difficult road, made even tougher when Elliot gets accused of murdering a man back in India –then declares that very man to not only be alive, but stalking him there in Scotland.
As with most of the mystery plots in this series, that sidestory was far weaker than the romance… which itself wasn’t as well developed as those in the previous books. It’s hard not to empathize with Elliot. As the story progresses, we learn more and more about what he was subjected to. And he made it through all of that with his secret love for Juliana in his heart. That was a supposed to be terribly romantic, I know, but it was a little tough for me to swallow, knowing he just jumped out of a pseudo-ménage with his neighbor and some Indian lady. I also question how much he could really love Juliana having been away from her for so long. It seemed more like he loved the memory of her and the ideal he built in his mind. Yet, the love story progressed as though the love were real, true, and complete, despite the time and distance.
Putting that aside, it wasn’t a bad story. I truly felt for Elliot –and while Juliana wasn’t all that developed, she was loyal to her husband and seemed to be worthy of his regard. The love scenes are good, and there are some good moments in the romance. I liked the MacKenzie connection, even though it was brief, and I found the ending satisfying. It just has a different feel. Maybe it’s the dash of Indian culture; maybe it’s the detachment from the location and characters of the previous books. Maybe it’s the lack of internal conflict beyond Elliot’s mental illness. It just didn’t quite hit the same mark. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. (Though admittedly, almost everyone else did.)