THE VIPER - Monica McCarty
Highland Guard Series , Book 4
Ballantine Books
November 2011
Historical Romance

English Marches and Scotland, 1306

Lachlan MacRuairi was once a laird, but a betrayal caused him to lead his clansmen into an ambush. Only he survived, and to punish himself, he turned the lairdship over to a younger, more deserving brother. The betrayer was his wife.

Now Lachlan serves Robert Bruce as one of his Guardsmen, code named the Viper. He is a ruthless adversary with a talent for escape. He supports Bruce under a three-year term, at the end of which Bruce will pay him with money and an island—a place where he can live in solitude. When Bruce orders him to bring Bella MacDuff to his coronation, Lachlan complies. Bella is from an ancient family who has crowned Scotland 's kings. While Lachlan tries to get Bella and other women from Bruce's family to safety, again someone betrays his group. Lachlan is caught and imprisoned, but far worse befalls the women.

Edward Plantagenet, King of England, knows Bella has crowned Bruce, and with her husband's complete compliance, devises a horrendous punishment. Bella will hang in a small cage from one of the towers at Berwick Castle so all can see her shame. Bella is appalled. How can she survive? But she will do anything when her daughter Joan is threatened. She has not seen Joan since leaving to crown Bruce, and hopes that her beloved girl is safe. While imprisoned, Bella puts the blame where she thinks it belongs—on Lachlan MacRuairi—even though drawn to him in ways she cannot explain.

While a fictionalization of two historical people, THE VIPER invents a new ending containing hope for both the Bella and Lachlan characters. The story is very tense and dramatic with repeated escapes, captures, intrigue, and betrayal. Robert Bruce is at a low, nearly hopeless, point in his effort to overcome resistant Scots and the English to become Scotland 's king. The relationship between Bella and Lachlan is full of pitfalls, misunderstandings, and danger for two people already damaged by horrible previous marriages. Other characters from previous volumes appear in the story, but play relatively small parts. If you want taut suspense with accurate historical background detail, and an unusual heroine and hero, put THE VIPER on your must read list.

Robin Lee