The Scandalous Secret of Abigail MacGregor (The MacGregors: Highland Heirs #3) by Paula Quinn
This is the kind of romance we all dream about.
This is the kind of book that got me into reading historical romances in the first place - the unholy bargain the young virginal heroine enters into to save her family and the older, experienced yet honorable, man who comes along to enforce the bargain (and just happens to be sexily hot) and is responsible for her well-being. The fact that he can’t quite keep his hands and his heart away from her along the way serves up endless opportunities for romance and smut and has us sighing longingly as their journey continues.
The Scandalous Secret of Abigail MacGregor isn’t so Scandalous in the ways you might be tempted to think, but it’s what starts this book on it’s delicious path forward. The Queen of England sends a letter to her suspected older sister to summon her to court to attend the Queen. That this sister has married into a clan of outlawed Highlanders who support the opposition to the throne, has made the whole escapade extremely dangerous. Since the lady in question is too ill to travel, her brave daughter agrees to go in her stead, hoping to convince the Queen that her mother (the Queen’s sister) really has no desire to stake a claim to the throne (that through the laws of succession should rightfully be her mother’s).
And so we meet the pearl-tressed Abigail, scared but determined to protect her family and clan above all else. Oh? Pearl- tressed? Yes, you read that right - she has hair the colour of creamy pearls. Yes, I know that such a hair colour is practically non-existent (unless you are albino or in your eighties), but I suppose that since we’ve all become accustomed to the horrid white wigs of Khaleesi from Game of Thrones, Abigail’s physical appearance isn’t such a shocker and perhaps her ambition to become Chieftain of her clan is a slight nod to the pale-locked Khaleesi. But, back to the book...
Abigail turns out to be delightful. The kind of woman who is on the threshold of discovering her future and her fate, but is not content to sit around and wait for life to happen to her. She uses her intellect and her training as the daughter of a Chieftain to conduct herself strategically and intelligently throughout the novel. She is charming and fun and delightfully innocent in regards to her sexual experience, and thank goodness that Ms. Quinn doesn’t make her out to be some kind of ninny who has no idea when a man is interested in her. Just because a woman has not done the deed, does not mean that she has no idea of how to flirt and make her desires known. This is the beauty of The Scandalous Secret of Abigail MacGregor. The combination of her innocence and the basic knowledge she does possess is electric when exposed to a man like Daniel Marlow, a knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, and a man who prides himself on duty and love of country as his main aims in life.
Daniel is honorable, and that is what makes his job of escorting Abigail to the Queen so excruciatingly fun - he fights and fights against his attraction to Abigail until he finally admits that he simply wants what he cannot have. He wants the enemy: Abigail is a Jacobite Highlander who wants to be a Chieftan. Why is this so problematic you may ask? Perhaps because Daniel is the commanding General of the Queen’s armies and has personally slain over 800 Jacobites while quelling rebellion after rebellion during the last ten years. So how on earth can these two ever get together and have a future beyond the few weeks they will spend travelling together? Good question, but the answer is even better.
The adventures along their arduous journey to London include murders, attacks, sabotage, attempted rape, kidnapping, sleeping in a barn (yay for rolls in the hay!) and a host of other nefarious enemies and allies popping up all over the place. Everytime you think they’ve just beaten the last challenge, something new and exciting pops up to take over and drive them into each others confidences and arms once more. It’s not just that Ms. Quinn keeps our attention from first word to last with all of the highly enjoyable and historically accurate action, it’s that she is extremely skilled at teasing out a very real love story between Abigail and Daniel. This is what makes this love story rise to the top of the milk jug, like the cream of the crop that it is.
Most historical romance novels that I am familiar with usually have the damsel in some sort of distress and the titled hero who comes to her rescue. The main device used to bind the two characters together is the heroines reaction to her first ever orgasm. So, whichever Lord or Duke or Earl gives her one, she somehow completely loses her mind and decides that this man must be who she is in love with, and all because he knew how to wiggle his fingers in the right place. But I digress! The love of Abigail and Daniel is so refreshing because they start out as slight enemies and as Ms. Quinn delightfully gives due to their burgeoning relationship, the stolen looks, sweet remarks and erstwhile touches are oh so meaningful and satisfying to us as much as they are to both Daniel and Abigail. This is how real people fall in love.
And so we too fall a little bit in love with Daniel and Abigail as they fall in love with each other, and any author who can achieve this whilst holding our attention with the intricacies of royal primogeniture and the plots and perils of constantly being in power, certainly gets my vote for a fabulous read.