|The victim of a not only loveless but degrading marriage and recently widowed, Emma, the Dowager Duchess of Herridge finds herself in the position of victim again when, in the first few pages of Karen Ranney's A Highland Duchess, a man in black climbs in through one of the windows of her suite and demands a mirror.
Ian McNair, the Earl of Buchane, is not in the habit of sneaking into ladies' boudoirs, breaking and entering, or of kidnapping. However, on the request of a friend, he is sent to the home of the widowed Duchess of Herridge —the Ice Queen herself —to retrieve a mirror that had belonged in the family. His friend happens to be Emma's stepdaughter, and the mirror is something Emma hasn't seen in years but feels certain is at the country home that she despises with every fiber of her being, just as she did her husband, the duke.
Though the kidnapping was an act of desperation, Ian puts Emma up at his home in London and sends a ransom note for the mirror to her uncle, Emma, a wealthy heiress in her own right, is under the "protection" of her uncle, who commands all of her money and thus her livelihood, is in no great hurry to return home to a man who is proving himself to be just as detestable as her deceased husband. Despite her growing fascination with Ian, however, Emma realizes that she must return home as soon as possible to protect her tattered reputation.
Ian had expected the Ice Queen —a woman whose husband liked to strip her down and pose her nude before his hedonistic friends and proceed to hold orgies in his ballroom —to be just that. However, he discovers almost immediately that there is considerably more to Emma than what had —once —met the eyes of many. For one thing, she is battered by guilt for many things over which she had no control, not the least of which was submitting to her husband, an act so abhorrent to her that she is sure she is damned.
Not unexpectedly, over the three days she spends in Ian's home not knowing his identity, the two fall in love. Ian returns to Scotland, his home, only to return immediately, meaning to snatch Emma up and say to hell with his previous plans. To his alarm and disgust, by the time he returns to Emma's townhome, she has already been married off to someone else. What Ian will soon learn is that she wasn't married off to just anyone, but his gambler cousin Bryce, and that soon, Emma, the former Duchess of Herridge, will be under his roof again —and that he will never be allowed to lay his hands on her. As he helps her nurse his sick cousin back to health, Emma sticks to her guns. Ian, on the other hand, is strongly considering thumbing his nose at society. Then something horrendous and horrifying happens, and the only thing they truly have to worry over is whether or not Emma is going to survive ...
Ranney, a prolific author of primarily "highland" sorts of novels, does not disappoint in A Highland Duchess; although, by the time she gets to the Highlands, Emma is no longer a duchess. Actually, a majority of the book takes place in Victorian London, which is a nice change from the Regency period preferred by most historical authors. It is not, however, set in Scotland. Ian McNair happens to be a Scot nobleman, but that's about it.
Ranney is not, by any means, a heart-stopping writer; no one will feel the need to re-read the book or even its passages. However, A Highland Duchess is entirely fulfilling, with two main characters that readers will both appreciate for what they've made of themselves as well as enjoy knowing that Emma especially has had true obstacles in her life that involved more than picking out the appropriate dress for Lady ----'s ball.