Shana Abe's newest title, Intimate Enemies, had me performing a cliché. As I read the last third of the book, I realized I was actually sitting on the edge of my seat. This gripping story of a Scottish clanswoman and an English lord contains the ingredients necessary for a first rate romance.
Lauren MacRae is the only child of the Laird of the MacRae Clan. Her father raised her as if she were a male heir. She has learned how to use weapons, to ride like a boy, and how to negotiate with and lead the clan. Their clan claims the Isle of Shot. The English Lord du Morgan also claims the same isle. The two groups have settled into an uneasy arrangement with each side living on half of the isle.
Lauren particularly dislikes Lord Ryder du Morgan because he kidnapped her when she was eight and held her as a bargaining tool. Ryder's nephew and heir, Arion, helped her escape from that confinement before his uncle could seriously hurt her. The two of them make a connection at that time, but Lauren still considers all du Morgans as enemies.
Twelve years later, Arion is now the Lord after his cruel uncle's death. When a much larger band of raiding Vikings ambushes his men, a group of MacRae warriors attacks the Vikings. Through a haze, Arion witnesses a woman warrior strike down the Viking who would have killed him. When he reawakens, he is recuperating under guard in the clan stronghold.
With her father dead and her cousin, Quinn, the new laird, in a coma from another Viking attack, Lauren has been standing in as the laird. Seeing Arion again proves unsettling. She still hates du Morgans, but is confused by her strong reaction to him. Arion is nothing like his uncle. He is greatly attracted to Lauren and keeps her off balance with his wit and humor. He even proposes that the Scots and the English join forces to fight the Vikings who will surely overrun the isle if the two communities do not support each other. Lauren is very reluctant, but sees it as the only option to save the people she loves and leads.
As the two leaders work to hold together the alliance between longtime enemies, they come to know each other become closer. But Lauren is awaiting the arrival of the fiancé her Father chose for her when she was eight years old, and honor demands that she marry the man.
Lauren and Arion are fully developed characters. Lauren has all the characteristics of an honorable person; loyalty, courage, compassion. She also has doubts about her abilities and is stung by remarks she overhears about her unladylike behavior. Her sense of duty helps her resist her growing feelings for the English lord.
Arion is the hero we all want in our lives. He has worked hard to repair the damage his uncle's cruelty had done to the people under him. He managed to keep his humor and sense of what is right. Although he wants to protect Lauren in difficult situations, he realizes that she needs to be in charge of her actions and allows her to work with him in dangerous situations.
The excitement in Intimate Enemies comes from all of the various tensions that
build throughout the story. There is the sexual tension between Lauren and Arion, the internal tension between Lauren and some of the members of her clan who don't like working with the English, and the tension of waiting and not knowing when or if the Vikings are going to attack again.
And once Lauren’s fiancé Murdoch arrives a whole different kind of tension is involved. He is not exactly the person that he presents to the clan. Only Lauren is shown his true colors and must decide how to deal with this threat. Abe weaves all of these elements carefully so that they are clear, but flow faster and faster to a solid and satisfying ending. A large exhale is necessary after that scene.
Intimate Enemies is a compelling story. Lauren and Arion are tender and tough, funny and poignant, and above all, honorable to their followers and to each other. Don't miss this fine tale.
--B. Kathy Leitle