The Mad, Bad Duke

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie

Perils of the Heart

The Pirate Hunter

The Pirate Next Door

Lady Knightly's Secret

  

 
Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage
by Jennifer Ashley
(Berkley, $7.99, PG-13)  ISBN 978-0425235454
***
Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage is like meringue – looks good, tastes great, and it isn’t until you’ve finished it that you realize there wasn’t much substance to it.  But while you’re eating, it’s fine and tasty.

Lady Isabella Scranton shocked London society when she eloped on the night of her debut with Lord “Mac’ Mackenzie, a noted artist and rake whom she had met that same evening. Their attraction was immediate, but in a classic “marry in haste, repent at leisure” fashion, Isabella came to regret her decision. He father disowned her, she lost contact with her family, and Mac turned out to have a rather serious drinking problem. He would disappear after their arguments, often for weeks at a time, then show up again professing his love for her. Isabella truly loved Mac, and he loved her in return, but one disappearance too many after a heartbreaking loss caused Isabella to leave him.

Three years later, Mac hasn’t painted worth a damn since Isabella left. When she shows up on his doorstep with the news that his art is being copied and sold by a very clever forger, Mac couldn’t care less. His only thought is to try and find a way to get his beloved Isabella back in his life for good.

Mac has changed in the years since Isabella walked out. He’s sober, having conquered his drinking problem, and has worked hard to turn his life around with the help of his brothers.  Isabella can’t deny the pull between them is as strong as ever. Soon she’s spending more time with him, under the guise of discovering the forger’s identity, and their sexual attraction flares up.  They become lovers again, but Isabella won’t commit to making it a marriage and ending their separation. Meanwhile, Mac finds he’s painting the best works of his life now that his muse has returned.

Frankly, Isabella irritated me somewhat. She wants all of the fun and none of the commitment, no matter that Mac is a changed man and she knows it. She takes a long, long time to trust him, and comes across as a bit of a tease. The author hides the reason for their eventual separation until later in the story, and by then readers might be a bit fed up with Isabella. As for Mac, his dogged pursuit of Isabella is endearing, and perhaps the author intended this bit of reversal in her storytelling. Mac’s brothers enter the story, too, and two of them are there mostly to set up future books. Readers who read Jennifer Ashley’s last book will get to catch up with Lord Ian and his wife, Beth.

The author might have realized that there wasn’t a whole lot of conflict keeping these two apart, so she introduces a suspense subplot that only rears its head at the end of the story. Savvy readers will guess how it’s all going to play out.  As for Mac, he professes to be hiding a big secret that might drive Isabella way, but I never quite understood what it was.  He goes around making dark, anguished pronouncements about how Isabella would never love him if she knew the kind of man he really was, but it all amounted to nothing, in my opinion. At the end of the book, he’s pretty much the same guy we’ve been reading about all along. No big revelation here.

Isabella and Mac do have to work at coming to terms with the tragic event that precipitated their separation, and this is poignant.  This part of the story brought a definite lump to my throat.  The sex is plenty steamy, and the fact that Isabella and Mac are technically married gives the author plenty of room to maneuver. Readers won’t be disappointed.

Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage won’t make it onto my keeper shelf, but it was an entertaining, if slightly exasperating, afternoon’s read.  Everyone needs a little meringue in their life, right? 

--Cathy Sova


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