The fifth book in the Border Chronicles series, a very good series. Published in 2010.
Dugald Kerr, the laird of Brae Aisir, has lost his male heirs in the raging border wars. He has but one inheritor remaining: a beautiful headstrong granddaughter knows as Mad Maggie. There are many eager to wed Maggie, for with her comes the profitable right to exact tolls at a famous safe passage through the border hills, which has been under the protection of the Kerrs for generations.
Keenly aware of the covetous interest in his lands, the laird announces that any man who can outrun, outride and outfight Mad Maggie will win her and her inheritance. His proposition causes more chaos than resolution, for feisty Maggie’s reputation proceeds her, and the one man to take up the challenge is roundly defeated.
But young King James V learns of the laird’s problems and dispatches his cousin Fingal Stewart into the borders to wed the heiress without delay so that the valuable pass may be protected. But the laird insists his conditions be met, and the heated contest of wills between Fin and Maggie brings out the fire in them both. But there are those who will stop at nothing to gain control of Maggie’s inheritance … even if it means getting rid of Fingal Stewart and his border vixen.
Her grandfather is almost seventy, really old for a Border Lord in those times. Maggie is 17, and should have been wed years ago, but she is not even betrothed. She has no interest in a husband, as she is convinced she can rule the keep and the pass by her self and her loyal clansman. But the clan needs heirs to secure the position of the Kerrs, and so she reluctantly agrees to find a husband. None of their neighbours interests her though. She needs a man she can respect. Which means, a man who can beat her in the contests her grandfather has announced.
Only one man wants Maggie as his wife, as he has lusted after her and her heritage for years. When she is his, he will beat that wilfulness right out of her, she will come crawling to him at his demands! But Maggie is not interested in Ewan Hay at all, he is just a bully, and a third son, so of no importance. Maggie beats Ewan Hay in the footrace, and he just gives up the contest. She has made an enemy out of him, and he is even more determined to tame her.
So Ewan decides to go to the King himself, and ask for Maggie as his wife. But King James is no fool, and he doesn’t trust the tale Ewan tells him. He sends his own cousin, Lord Fingal Stewart of Torra, as Maggies husband-to-be, to take control over the pass, and more importantly, the income from it. Lord Fingal is an unimportant and poor man, owning his sword and a house in Edinburgh, but renowned for the loyalty he and his family has always owned the King. He has been a mercenary for years, and a big strong man. So he will be able to beat Maggie in her contests, and gain her respect. He really wants that, because he already likes Maggie, and she is a very bonny lass.
Maggie realizes she has to obey the King, and the marriage has to take place immediately, but the bedding will have to wait till after the contest. And that she manages to postpone for a few months. Time to get to know each other, and for Maggie to show Fingal how things are done in the Borders. He is impressed with her knowledge, for she has managed the keep for a few years now, even the accounts.
The safe passage between England and Scotland has been guarded by the Kerr family for over 500 years. Her English uncle though has delusions that he shall marry Maggie himself (she will be his third wife) so he can control the whole pass, and not just the 8 miles of it on English soil. Maggie has no intention of doing that of course, and her grandfather dislikes his English cousin Edward Kerr greatly. So he will never permit that to happen. And now the King has made the decision for them.
For a few years, all is well. Maggie and Fin get along great together, they have two boys to guarantee the succession of the Kerr family line, and even have been to Edinburgh to visit the King.
But now England and Scotland are at war again, and Fingal has to join the Kings army. Against his wife’s wishes, she just knows there will be trouble coming from it. And indeed there is trouble. Her husband goes missing, presumed death after a minor battle the Scots lose. Ewan Kerr enters the keep with an lie, and takes over. He still wants to marry Maggie, and know he will use any means in his power to get what he wants. But Maggie keeps refusing him, believing her husband to be alive, he will come back to her! Until he threatens the lives of her children and her beloved grandfather, she no longer has the choice to refuse him.
Of course, Fingal saves them all just in time, but that is not the end of it. Ewan Hay will never give up his dreams of having Maggie in his bed, at his mercy.
I totally loved this book. Bertrice Small has a writing style I really like. The descriptions of everything, the food on the table, the clothes, the furniture, the daily life. And of course the great pieces of true history, what happens with the Kings of Scotland and England.
Her heroines are down to earth, and strong. They will always survive, but not lead an easy and pampered life. Common sense prevails and they will do what is necessary. And her heroes can see the value of such a wife, and treasure her. The lovescenes are well written and inventive. I hope she will write dozens more, and I will always keep buying them.