After witnessing her protector and her mother executed on the guillotine during the French Revolution, courtesan, Claudia Valemont, barely escaped France with her own life. While traveling to Scotland in search of the father she never knew, Claudia finds herself stranded at a small roadside inn when the mail coach she was riding in breaks down. In the taproom of the inn, she is attacked by a drunken man, and fortuitously rescued by a handsome savior whose tender touch make her feel safer than she has in a long time. Still, her run of bad luck, makes Claudia desperate to reach her father's castle and so she attempts to steal a horse which only lands her in jail with a potential hanging sentence forthcoming.
Jack Campbell is the local hangman and Claudia's rescuer from the inn. The petite raven-haired beauty had stirred feelings in Jack that he had never know before, making him determined not to become her executioner. Instead, he stands up and defends her in court, which gets her placed in his custody while laboring in the village for the next six months. As a courtesan, Claudia had lived a pampered, aristocratic lifestyle and knew nothing of menial chores, so her life with Jack becomes one adventure after another. Claudia and Jack begin to develop feelings for one another, but Claudia has not been entirely truthful with Jack. She still longs to meet her father, and if she is able to make good on her escape plan there may be nothing Jack can do to save her from his noose. Claudia's presence has also broken a tentative decade-long truce between Jack and his half-brother, Callum, and has stirred the sibling's raging jealousy of Jack to madness, leaving both Jack and Claudia in mortal danger.
My Lord Jack was an enjoyable read that had some unique elements and was packed with almost non-stop action especially during the second half of the book. It pairs a hunky Scottish hero with a French heroine both of whom are of illegitimate birth and for a long while, neither feels worthy of the other. Even though both were essentially low-born, Claudia was raised in an environment where she was as pampered as any noble due to her mother's status as a courtesan. Initially she and Jack have a clash of wills and some humorous moments when Claudia is remanded into Jack's custody after stealing a horse and must learn to do menial chores and work as a barmaid. For the first half of the story Jack and Claudia's relationship evolves rather slowly. There is a burning desire between them right from the start, but Jack is too honorable a man to act on it. Claudia would have been happy to, but she is keeping a lot of secrets about herself and her past from Jack which tended to stunt their emotional intimacy during the first half of the book. After Claudia attempts to escape, there is an explosive moment between her and Jack where she eventually confesses all in a beautiful scene that led to some deep passion. During a large part of the book, but particularly in the second half, the author has a penchant for torturing her hero and heroine, mostly through the actions of others. Jack's brother, Callum, has harbored a deep-seated jealously of Jack since they were children and blames him for their mother's murder. Callum's hatred evolves into madness as the true circumstances of their mother's death are revealed, and Claudia's father isn't a very nice man either. The couple end up embroiled in some edge-of-you-seat, nail-biting suspense that left me with teary eyes and frayed nerves because of all that they had to endure to find their HEA. After all that, I don't think two characters could have deserved it more. It might have been nice to have a few more romantic scenes or perhaps a wedding scene at the end, but overall I wasn't too bothered by this. I think that their actions demonstrated their love by showing just how far they were willing to go and how much personal risk they faced to protect one another.
Jack was positively a to-die-for hero. When I first read the cover blurb for this book and realized that he was a hangman, not only did I find that to be a highly unusual profession for a romance hero but I wasn't sure if I would like him being an executioner. Even though it made me a tad bit uncomfortable in much the same way that it did Claudia, I still fully respected Jack. His reasons for his career choice become quite clear as he begins to remember things that had previously been rendered to his subconscious by traumatic amnesia. Also, Jack had a reputation for being extremely precise and conscientious about his work, studying the science and mathematics of hanging to ensure a quick, clean parting for the condemned, so much so that some prisoners actually requested him by name. Outside of his occupation, Jack mostly leans toward being a tender beta hero. He is an animal lover who cares for a menagerie of "wee beasties". He loves all creatures, counting them as his friends, and as a result is a vegetarian. He is an educated man and a lover of books, and he is also quite intelligent. Even when given only limited clues, Jack uses reason and logic to figure things out rather than jumping to conclusions that could have led to clichéd misunderstandings. He is a skilled herbal healer and an incredibly talented artisan who creates beautiful sculpted wood mantelpieces. Jack wasn't afraid to cry when the situation warranted it, he was protective of all women, and best of all (to me anyway), he was a virgin who had taken his own personal vow of celibacy. All this certainly didn't mean that Jack was a pushover though. In spite of Claudia having a rather stubborn personality, he never let her get the upper hand. He also had a couple of alpha moments brought on by his intense love for Claudia and fear for her safety. Overall, Jack was a near-perfect hero for me who I thought was a great match for Claudia.
It took me a little longer to warm up to Claudia. At first, she acts a bit spoiled because of having led a pampered life as a courtesan in France before the events of the revolution forced her to flee to England in search of her biological father, her only remaining relative. She barely escaped France with her life and once the reader begins to learn of the things that happened to her there both before and after the revolution started, she becomes a much more sympathetic character. Claudia is also smart enough to realize her good fortune when Jack rescues her from being the next person he would have had to hang, and although initially completely inept at common labor, she does slowly grow and show some backbone about her new lot in life. In fact, as time goes on she gradually becomes more confident and spunky, facing all the hardships that life throws her way with poise and dignity. She relishes every moment with Jack, even though she doesn't feel deserving of a kind and gentle man like him. Jack may have rescued Claudia on more than one occasion, but her love for him gave her a courage she didn't know she possessed to enable her to return the favor. In the end, I really liked Claudia and thought that she was a worthy mate for Jack.
There was a large cast of supporting characters with lots of villagers in the little hamlet where Jack lived. I really liked Jack's best friend, Milread. She was obviously a bit sweet on him herself, but any feelings she might have had for Jack didn't stop her from being a good friend to Claudia too and always doing what was best for the both of them. Her little brother Luicas, Jack's apprentice, was rather gullible but at the same time was a neat kid with a good heart. As I mentioned before, Jack's half-brother, Callum, is really the main villain, and he's quite the piece of work, but there are other ne'er-do-wells who join in tormenting our hero and heroine. Even Claudia's father, Lord Aberdaire, was an icy man with an Arctic chill emanating from his pores. He seemed to care for nothing or no one, except perhaps his equally evil butler, and his single-minded pursuit in life seemed to be begetting an heir at any cost. All in all, it was an interesting cast of both friends and foes.
My Lord Jack is part of Jove's multi-author Highland Fling series, but that designation is a bit misleading, since the story takes place in the Lowlands and not the Highlands. As such, the men don't even wear kilts, but there is extensive use of the Scottish dialect as well as French words and phrases which I thought the author used to good effect. I've noticed a number of mediocre ratings for this book online, and although I can see how there might be several little things that could be bothersome, I personally thoroughly enjoyed it. Readers who don't mind a lot of action and adventure along with their romance will probably find it to be a pleasant read, as would those who like intense peril and don't mind their hero and heroine traveling to hell and back before getting their happy ending. It may not have been an absolutely perfect read for me, but My Lord Jack entertained me with likable characters and a tense, fast-paced plot kept me eagerly coming back when I had to put it down. Things happen surprisingly quickly with lots of events packed within it's 300 pages. This might be a bit overwhelming to some readers, but everything except one minor plot point about a courier who was ordered killed by Lord Aberdaire, was wrapped up to my satisfaction. I also would have liked to see a bit more contemplation on Jack's part when it came to relinquishing his long-held vow of celibacy, but the lack of it was hardly a deal-breaker. This was my first book by Hope Tarr, and I look forward to reading more from her in the future. Even though she perhaps could have reigned in the broad scope of the plot and built a bit more intimacy and romance between Jack and Claudia, I found her general writing style to be quite solid. This was only her second novel, and as such, I was impressed with her ability to engage both my emotions and attention so well with one of her early efforts. I borrowed My Lord Jack from the library, but I liked it so much, I plan to get a copy for my keeper shelf soon.
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