Title: Highland Spy
Series: The Mercenary Maidens #1
Author: Madeline Martin
Format: Paperback, 358 Pages
Published: January 10, 2017 (Diversion Publishing)
Links: Goodreads| Amazon | B&N
Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Wine Glasses
Ariana Fitzroy has lost her family and her fortune. The fight for survival leads her to the shadowed card games of court where she discovers she has quite a talent for slipping cards into her favor. While the winnings are enough to sustain her at present, they will not last forever…
Connor Grant, trainer of the fallen women from the English court and personal assassin to the king, is just as broken as the women he trains. After losing his own land and all his people in a brutal attack from a trusted friend, he has no choice but to rebuild any way he sees possible – even if it means going against everything he’s ever believed in.
After catching Ariana cheating at cards, Connor has a new trainee to instruct at one of the king’s many confiscated castles. In the dilapidated ruins, he discovers Ariana is more than she appears and falls in love with her incredibly tenacity and dedication – a love that is challenged by Connor’s chance at reclaiming the inheritance he once lost and has sought so desperately to regain.
This story is one of second chances, of realizing a strength where only hopelessness once resided – a story of rising above the bad hand one has been dealt into a life of accomplishment and love.
He hated having to look for a new girl, a new spy to add to his band of fallen women. Yes, it was an opportunity to spare her before her ruin could be known, but a deep part of him hurt for the women in his employ and what they’d all endured.
Highland Spy by Madeline Martin is an intriguing Scottish romantic mystery and the first installment in her Mercenary Maidens trilogy which is about a group of noble women who have fallen from the court’s good graces and been swept up into an organization of all female spies. I can honestly say I didn’t want to put this book down! It’s the first book I’ve ever read by Madeline; I do not plan on it being the last. The story reminded me slightly of a series by another favorite author of mine, Victoria Robert’s Highland Spies series which also features female spies and Highland hotties. That said, they are similar, but different! Regardless… combine a sexy kilted Highlander with a strong-willed woman in a captivating story and I’m in!
As the story opens, we meet Lady Ariana Fitzroy. Her family has died leaving her alone and destitute. She has resorted to cheating at cards to earn enough to scrape by. It just so happens that Highlander Connor Grant is in attendance at the same event looking for another woman to add to his band of spies who work at King James’ bidding. His eye catches Ariana’s trickery and he knows he’s found the woman he needs. With the threat that her treachery will be publicly exposed if she does not acquiesce to Connor’s proposition, Ariana agrees. Before Ariana can catch her breath, she has been whisked away to a Scottish castle to begin her training…
Ariana and Connor were realistic characters with chemistry. I connected with both from the beginning. Each of their background stories pulled at my heartstrings. They were each strong in both character and will and they genuinely cared for others. Connor really tried not to succumb to his attraction to Ariana as he felt honor-bound not to take advantage of her being that she was under his care. The villains were reprehensible… I won’t say anything more as I could ruin some of the author’s curveballs and I won’t do that.
Following please find a few of my favorite quotes from Highland Spy:
“Have you had much luck tonight?” she asked.
His gaze slipped to the neat stacks of coins in front of her. “No’ as much as ye, my lady.”
She let her own stare trail across her piles of winnings. Shame sizzled against her cheeks.,,,
“Perhaps I’m lucky tonight myself,” he said.
The silky undertone in his voice crept up her back like the skilled swipe of a musician’s fingers strumming a harp.
“What do you mean?” Of course she knew what he meant, but the glint of flirtation in his eye begged her to prompt him for the compliment.
A golden dollop of honey dribbled to lure the bee.
And she buzzed ever closer.
He pulled his freshly dealt cards toward him. “Perhaps I’m lucky tonight because I’ve met ye.”
Her breathing came faster, evidenced by the repeated rapid swell of her breasts against the low-cut bodice.
Before he could let his thoughts circle around once more, he cupped the elegant line of her jaw in his palm.
Her eyes widened.
“Are you going to kiss me?” she whispered.
Instead of answering, he lowered his mouth to the luscious warmth of hers.
Oh my! I had many favorite scenes, but one that still runs through my mind was Delilah’s lesson in seduction. Delilah was another member of Connor’s band of female spies (and her story will be the next one told!). Delilah was obviously experienced whereas Ariana had never even been kissed. Here’s a short snippet from that sensual scene.:
“This is an education on seduction,” Delilah said in a reverent tone…
Ariana let her gaze skim across the silk wall hangings and shrugged. “I’ve not ever kissed a man.” ... Truthfully, she had not. She’d been so fixed on her attempts to placate her parents in the hopes they might pay her the slightest bit of positive attention, she had not so much as considered kissing any man.
Delilah’s fingers touched Ariana’s chin, feather light, and tilted her face toward hers. “It is the most delicious thing. Close your eyes and I will tell you of it.”
Obediently, Ariana closed her eyes, hoping if she did as she was told, the lesson would end sooner.
It was an awkward sensation to sit in the ridiculous pillow-laden room with one’s eyes closed.
“Relax,” Delilah said in a velvety tone. “Listen.”
Ariana let her muscles slacken.
“Imagine a man, tall and lean with muscle.” Delilah’s voice was quietly intimate. Hypnotic. “He’s staring at you as if you were the only women he’d ever seen. Truly seen. The only woman he’s ever wanted. The desire for you burning in his eyes.”
Hazel eyes rose to the forefront of Ariana’s mind, a sharp jaw shadowed with a day’s growth of beard.
“His arms come around you,” Delilah continued. “So strong, so warm. They offer you a protection unlike anything you’ve ever felt and make you wish you could melt into his embrace for the rest of your life.”
In Ariana’s mind, Connor’s arms wrapped around her. But she didn’t shy from his touch – she welcomed. It. The chill of the room ebbed into a pleasant heat.
“Your eyes meet. His fingers touch your face and his breath whispers over your lips. He lowers his head and you close your eyes just as his mouth touches yours, warm and demanding.”
Ariana’s heart quickened and her breathing went almost ragged. Her mouth was suddenly dry and she flicked her tongue over her lips.
“His body is a wall of strength against you, holding you upright, as your knees feel as though they will buckle. Then his tongue strokes yours, velvet fire and heady seduction.”
Ariana drew a shaky breath….
I can’t wait to read Highland Ruse. That will be Delilah’s story! She’s the one who gave Arianna her lesson in seduction. I can only imagine the further instructions she may impart in her own adventure! Ooh la la!!!! While waiting for Highland Ruse to release, fans won’t be bereft. Madeline will be a part of THREE new anthologies releasing in 2017!
Highland Spy is well written and plotted. Blending political intrigue, espionage, pulse-pounding action and inexcusable treachery with real historical elements and a yummy attraction between Ariana and Connor made this tale a winner for me. You can expect plenty of surprising twists and turns along with a few shockers. I’d highly recommend Highland Spy to anyone who enjoys historical romantic suspense!
Suggested Reading Order:
Highland Spy (Book #1) Ariana’s story
Highland Ruse (Book #2) Delilah’s story coming January 2018!
Highland Wrath (Book #3) Sylvi’s story