This one is for the ladies: if your cup of coffee percolates at the idea of brawny dudes lustily slashing their way into castles along Scotland's craggy coast, (all the while finding time to woo and bed headstrong bonnie lasses), you'll do no better than to sit down with Olympia author Margaret Mallory's "Return of the Highlanders" historical romance series.
Mallory's first book, "The Guardian," came out in the spring of last year and introduced a quartet of virile young warriors - Ian, Alex, Connor and Duncan - returning to the Highlands after five years away, fighting on the Continent. "The Guardian" followed up late last year and now "The Warrior" makes its debut, this time focusing on Duncan MacDonald.
Of the four young men, only Duncan comes from decisively humble circumstances. His mother, a nursemaid in the castle run by Connor's father, never told her son who his father was.
But Duncan's fearlessness in battle and his loyalty at all times have earned him Connor's friendship. And with his strapping good looks, Duncan also has stirred the affections of Moira, Connor's violet-eyed sister. The feeling is reciprocal, but Duncan has known from the start that his lack of pedigree prevents him from marrying her.
The two had trysted years ago, until Moira's father discovered the affair, drove Duncan away, and married his daughter off to a nobleman deemed acceptable because of his holdings. But the husband has proven to be cruel and violent, and Moira is trapped in his Irish stronghold. She might have fled years ago were it not for fear of endangering the life of her young son.
In the meantime, Scotland's political scene has become chaotic in the early 1500s, and treacherous machinations are taking place amongst the bickering clans. Connor has become chieftain following the death of the patriarch and needs to establish his own presence and rebuild alliances with other clans throughout the greater region. That includes securing good relations with his brother-in-law, Moira's husband, so the young chieftain decides to send his most trusted emissary to Ireland.
Still secretly lovelorn after all these years, Duncan is reluctant but duty-bound to go.
Author Mallory has undertaken thorough historical research to build a plot filled with action and derring-do. Consider this cataloguing of Moira's adventures: "She had been beaten, lost at sea, swept down a cliff and attacked by wolves." And that's posted less than halfway through the book - there are many more incidents to follow.
The book switches between Duncan and Moira as the story builds to their reunion. Amorous bits? Oh my heavens, yes. Dangerous situations and stormy nights throw these attractive lead characters together repeatedly, and when that happens, the clothes peel off faster than an Irish wolfhound chasing a rabbit. Pride, misunderstanding and unpredictable political alliances present hurdles from time to time, but readers can rest assured that romance will prevail in "The Warrior."
The final book in this series, titled "The Chieftain," is due out in February of next year.
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at email@example.com.