by Marie Lipscomb
Series: Hearts of Blackmere #2
Also in this series: The Lady's Champion
Publisher: Violet Gaze Press
Publication Date: January 20, 2021
I received an advance review copy of this book from BookSprout. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Can forbidden love overcome the pull of duty and tradition?
No longer the Lady of Blackmere, Natalie joins the champions as a squire, aiding them in their pursuit of the traitor who organized the bandit attack which cost so many lives. But when their chase ends at the Champion’s Guild, she and Brandon must keep their love a secret, or risk being cast from the order.
Against the advice of the Guild Master, Brandon insists on competing in the Midsummer Melee. Long thought to be past his best, he finds renewed strength in the arms of his lady. But when an opportunity arises which could guarantee the comfort and security of his family for the rest of their days, he must choose between the woman he loves, and the Guild he calls home.
Where we last left Natalie and Brandon, she’d agreed to travel with him as a squire in order to pay him back for saving Blackmere from Henry and the bandits. Of course, the fact that they’re desperately in love with each other is also a factor in that decision! This is the second book in a series, and while I think the previous book is recapped well, I’d recommend reading them in order.
Natalie’s dreamed of meeting the champions for her entire life, and she’s excited to finally get a chance to actually live among them. But the reality is far from what she expected. For one thing, Henry has beaten them there, and many of the champions aren’t happy to have a noble lady among them. Plus, guild champions are forbidden from having relationships, and any hint of the love between Natalie and Brandon will lead to them both being kicked out of the Guild.
“Forgive me,” he whispered against her hair. “There are a lot of memories here. Good memories.”
“That doesn’t make it any easier. Sometimes the good memories hurt most of all.”
The bandit attack at Blackmere still haunts both Natalie and Brandon. Natalie still feels guilty for failing to protect her people better while Brandon misses his fallen friends. In some ways, returning to the Guild is almost a punishment for him, especially with Henry there and the Guildmaster more interested in the champions being nice to each other than actually investigating Natalie and Brandon’s accusations against him. Brandon has many reasons for returning to the guild, especially since they’ve been his family for so long, and one of the main ones is that he uses his prize money to support his ill mother. It seems even more important for him to compete well in the upcoming Midsummer Melee, especially if it means trouncing Henry. But Brandon has been hitting the tankard more than the training grounds lately, so everyone believes he’ll just embarrass himself again – everyone, that is, except Natalie. As his squire, she helps him regain his strength, and as the women he loves, she gives him a new reason to train. Brandon’s not the only one getting stronger; Natalie also gets the chance to train for the squire’s tournament, and that, along with helping out some of the other squires, helps restore some of the confidence she lost.
“You’re Brandon the Bear. People sing songs about your strength and courage.”
“I’m not the man I was.”
“I believe in the man you are now.”
A guild champion and a noble lady don’t make much sense outside the Guild, and as a squire and champion, it’s forbidden, so this is definitely a forbidden love type of situation, full of lots of pining and stolen intimate moments. The book is from Natalie’s POV, so a good chunk of the angst is from her worries about the future of their relationship (the rest is courtesy of that big jerk Henry). While there are some issues caused by lack of communication, once they actually have the time and space to have a conversation, they’re committed to working together to try to find a way to make their love work.
Overall, this was another good entry in this series. While there are still some unresolved plot threads, it looks like there will be a third book in the series following Natalie and Brandon, and then at least one for Genevieve (!!!).