Friday, March 19, 2010
The year is 1881. Meet the Mackenzie family - rich, powerful, dangerous, eccentric. A lady couldn't be seen with them without ruin. Rumors surround them - of tragic violence, of their mistresses, of their dark appetites, of scandals that set England and Scotland abuzz. The youngest brother, Ian, known as the Mad Mackenzie, spent most of his young life in an asylum, and everyone agrees he is decidedly odd. He's also hard and handsome and has a penchant for Ming pottery and beautiful women.
Beth Ackerley, widow, has recently come into a fortune. She has decided that she wants no more drama in her life. She was raised in drama - an alcoholic father who drove them into the workhouse, a frail mother she had to nurse until her death, a fussy old lady she became constant companion to. No, she wants to take her money and find peace, to travel, to learn art, to sit back and fondly remember her brief but happy marriage to her late husband.
And then Ian Mackenzie decides he wants her.
I loved this book. I loved mad, passionate Ian. He's not really mad, he has Asperger's Syndrome, or something like it. Although, back in the 1880's, he would certainly have been considered mad - or eccentric. Whatever it is - he's different.
How do I love Ian - let me count the ways: he's Scottish (anyone who knows me, knows about my penchant for all things Scottish), he's handsome, strong, fills a doorway. An amazing lover, although because of his peculiarity, he cannot love - or so he thinks. Once he meets Beth Ackerley he recognizes in her a thing of beauty, just as a Ming bowl, and he goes after her.
By the time Lord Ian discovers Beth, she's already affianced to a conniving yet stupid fortune hunter who is no match for Ian. He rescues her at the opera from her low-down fiance by informing her of her fiance's "secret life" of sex and debauchery. Beth is not your typical high society English Victorian widow who carries smelling salts and stiffens at the slightest hint of impropriety. She comes from humble beginnings, her father was a con artist, and her mother was barely able to save them from starvation. By some miraculous turn of events, Beth married a young vicar who loved her and taught her that there's nothing wrong with passion in bed. She was happy with him in their little parish amongst the poor of the East End of London. But, her husband died and Beth became a paid lady's companion to an old lady who left Beth her entire fortune.
Now that Ian has assuredly gotten the fiance out of the picture, he proposes on the spot to Beth himself! She is naturally taken aback by his proposal, yet considers it briefly, he takes her breath away, and he is awfully handsome... and he does kiss ever so well... (I told you, Beth is not your typical missish Victorian!) Lord Ian's frankness doesn't shock her - and his kisses don't either! But, the practical side of her wins out, even after his tantalizing kiss in his box at the opera. She thanks him for his help, breaks off the engagement and leaves for Paris immediately to learn how to draw - and guess who conveniently has a brother who is an artist in Paris?
Ian follows Beth to Paris, but that's not the whole story. There's a murder that takes place in London and Ian is the prime suspect. As the story unfolds, we learn this is not the first murder of this kind and we wonder - did Ian do it, or did his brother - a duke - do it? What are they hiding, what is the family secret, and why do all the women that get involved with Mackenzies either die or leave them? And what business does this pesky detective from Scotland Yard have in all of this?
While the murder mystery is getting thicker, Beth and Ian are getting hot and heavier - and o! What a sexy affair it is! But, it's short lived, for she soons marries him and meets his brother, the duke. Did I happen to mention that Mackenzies don't take no for an answer? Especially when they have several brothers that always seem to be around to lend their support when needed? Once Beth marries Ian and goes to Scotland with him, she meets his brother, Hart - the duke. Hart is not a friendly sort. He's furious Ian married without his permission. He makes it clear that he doesn't like Beth and thinks she's nothing more than a gold digger, despite the fact that she already had her own fortune by the time she met Ian.
Meanwhile, while Beth is fighting off annoying brother in-laws, making friends with one of their estranged wives, and trying to solve the mystery of the London murders that Ian is implicated in, she's falling in love with her husband! How gauche! But, what can she do, he is irresistible and I couldn't blame her one bit! She knows Ian didn't do it - but she's not sure who did! Will Beth put herself in jeopardy trying to solve the mystery? You bet!
I really liked Beth, she is not a gold digger, she is her own woman, she knows what's going on in the world, she has seen the seemier side of life and has her eyes open. Granted, she has her moments when she has her doubts and is scared or put off, but it doesn't last long - she's strong! She is tenatious in solving the murder mystery and removing this cloud that is hanging over her husband's head. She doesn't want him to live with this inspector chasing him all his life, and she doesn't want Ian to be at the beck and call of hid brother, Hart either! (the name - Hart, is ironic, for he has no heart. Cold as ice. Yet Ian, the one who thinks he doesn't - does!)
I loved every word of this original historical romance. Ian is every inch a heart throbbing, jaw dropping hero, yet he's so vulnerable! He's been locked up a good part of his life - unjustly, and I have to admit, I'm a sucker for these kind of heroes with tortured pasts. He's extremely intelligent, but misunderstood. Beth is the balm to his nightmares and episodic rages. For a man that says he cannot love, once he meets Beth, he can finally call himself a liar - he knows how to love, but he just doesn't realize it yet. Beth brings out the best in him and they are perfect mates for one another.
Read this romance! You won't be sorry, Ms. Ashley did a great job in balancing Ian's Asperger's with the heartstopping and noble attributes of a romantic hero. I held off on reading this book when everyone else was reading it last year because I thought I wouldn't like it, but I'm sorry I waited - it was great!