Ambushed as he approaches an English estate, Lord Cort Dornogard trusts no one…least of all spirited Gaelic healer Alexis Fallon, who fascinates even as she defies him.
The magnificent Norse warrior is a threat to both Alexis’ heart and her cherished autonomy, for she harbors a secret about the ambush she cannot reveal. Honesty will cost her her freedom. But silence may cost her far more.
Cort harbors a damning secret of his own–one guaranteed to foment rebellion among his new subjects. The escalating attacks and accidents confirm that fear. His foes, both English and Norman, will exploit what he hides to destroy him, his dreams, and the woman he’s grown to love.
Snared in a web of castle intrigue, passion, and betrayal, Cort and Lexi are each far more than either suspects. Will they discover too late that truth is a two-edged sword?
Review: At the outset, let me say that O’Key captures the medieval period, and has obviously done research to get the terms right and the historical setting accurate. I give her full marks for that. Her medieval voice is believable. She can write well and this is an enjoyable story. Still, I did have a few issues with it that kept me from giving the story a higher rating.
Her hero, Lord Cort Dornogard, is a sensitive knight, who has seen his share of fighting and prefers to be building a castle on the land he has claimed as his. Once he has decided to settle in the Cotswolds in Southern England, on the spur of the moment he decides to take Lady Alexis Fallon, the niece of the prior lord, as his wife. Since he’s been kissing her at every opportunity, this made sense. I did like the scene where he makes his intent known. Cort is easily distracted by Lexi (which seemed unusual for a well-trained knight), falling off his horse in the quatrain practice, running into things, etc. Most of the book consists of their courting and a few attacks by enemies. The entire story takes place in or near the Saxon estate (he’s building a castle but it is only begun).
O’Key’s writing style is unique, often using abbreviated wording, which left me wondering who said what or what was going on (at least for several paragraphs). It got better as the story went along (or perhaps I just got used to it). She tended to begin scenes without making clear whose head we were in, and opening in the middle of something, which caused me to mentally pause until I could catch up (and I’m not slow). In an attempt, no doubt, to add mystery, the villain’s identity is not disclosed to us though in one scene we are in his/her head. (Even at the end I wasn’t sure if the villain’s accomplice or the villain had done some of the deeds as this wasn’t made clear—still I always knew who the villain was–there just weren’t enough characters to make it a hard guess.)
As you might think, I found the story a bit predictable: I knew from the outset what Lexi’s secret was and who the villain was, and where the story was going. Cort’s anger, though a bit over the top, was also predictable when it came. On the other hand, I found Lexi’s approach to their physical relationship a bit bizarre for a well born girl in the 11th century (her thought: “They would take each other with equal ferocity this first time…”). And I found the attitudes of Lexi and her female cousin toward the conquering Normans also a bit odd. They would have known of the brutality and the raping and pillaging that accompanied the Norman invasion, but none of that is mentioned except in the context of Hastings and then there is no mention of anyone they knew dying. Instead, the two women have no problem with marrying a Norman. I could see where they may be forced to do it for pragmatic reasons but fully embrace it? Not sure about that.
The hero and heroine, while interesting, have little background nor any issues: Cort is a successful knight with a nice family (yes he has one enemy but who doesn’t?); Lexi also has a nice family, including a loyal brother. Both have pets they love. In other words, they didn’t have anything to work through, not even the fact they come from warring peoples. Trust was mentioned as an issue but really that was only due to Cort’s initial uncertainty about Lexi; it didn’t keep him from marrying her.
One nit: King William I is one of the characters (left hanging when the action happens at the end), and the author describes him as short. Actually, he was believed to be 5’10”, two inches taller than the average man at the time. While not significant, when I read he was “short” it caused me to pause.
Overall, it was mildly entertaining—I think of it as Medieval Romance Lite.
Favorite Quote: “…one man’s commitment to another should not rest solely on necessity or fear. Strong bonds require the heart and soul.”