I was so pissed off on Tuesday. With a massively busy day at work I couldn’t stay up until midnight the night before to await the delivery of my pre-ordered copy of The Untamed Mackenzie, a book I have been waiting for since discovering the connection of the brilliant but antagonistic London detective who harasses Ian Mackenzie in the first book of the Highland Pleasures series, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. Then I was too tired after a fourteen hour day to do anything but faceplant into my pillow that night.
Luckily for me, my mother had to have cataract surgery (this was not lucky for her, obviously) and I had to “take care of her” for most of the day (thanks, Mom!). While she slept off the anesthesia – she’s doing extremely well, BTW, exclaiming over all the signs she can read clearly – I dove into Jennifer Ashley-land which is a pretty, pretty place filled with characters I adore. If you haven’t yet read any of this Victorian series, I’ve reviewed the Highland Pleasures books before which might give you a idea if the books are a good match for your reading style. (Hint: Do you like reading? They are a good match.)
Detective Lloyd Fellows has had to deal with some guff from his co-workers since it became public knowledge that he was born on the wrong side of the blanket – and that blanket was the Mackenzie tartan belonging to one of the most powerful and wealthy Scottish families in the realm. The Mackenzie brothers and their spouses have gone out of their way to make Lloyd and his barmaid mother feel welcome at family events, but he still feels like a fish out of water after years of hating the aristocracy.
There is one exception to that rule. Lady Louisa Scranton, sister of Isabella Mackenzie (Lloyd’s feisty sister-in-law), is the beautiful redhead who has starred in Lloyd’s dreams since they shared two unbelievably passionate kisses at various Mackenzie functions. But Louisa is the daughter of a disgraced Earl who must be busy trying to find a titled husband. Just the thought of it makes Lloyd want to succumb to the rage he periodically experiences (another Mackenzie inheritance).
Unfortunately, Louisa has her hands quite full. Yes, it’s suitor related, but instead of a garden proposal she is busy getting blackmailed by a handsome but sinister bishop who wants her to be his wife. He’s generously telling her that he’ll forgive her family’s debt to him if she does it, and before Louisa can tell him to go to hell in an appropriately ladylike way, said Bishop keels over dead from a cup of tea Louisa just handed him. In an empty tent. With no one else around. Looks bad, right? Which is why her sister insists that Detective Lloyd Fellows be called in to investigate the case. The Mackenzies aren’t putting one of their family into the hands of some overeager constable looking to make a name for himself.
Lloyd might be suspicious of everyone but he believes Louisa when she says she is innocent, even after they both discover the small bottle of Prussic acid (the poison the bishop died from ingesting) in her skirt pocket. Not only is Louisa shocked at a man dying in front of her, but she’s also horrified to discover that she is being ostracized from the ton, with “friends” dropping right and left from her life. The one constant is the ever-frustrating, distant detective who kisses like a dream and makes every other man in her life pale by comparison. Even when he admits there is something between them, Lloyd Fellows refuses to do anything about it. Louisa realizes with everything about her life in a shambles, there’s one thing she’s not about to compromise, and that’s her future happiness. Look out, Lloyd!
Lloyd Fellows, you cheeky devil, we knew you’d grow into your honorary Mackenzie status! Just as Hart, the Duke of Kilmorgan and oldest (legitimate) Mackenzie brother admits, you and your barmaid mother got hosed by your horrible father just like the rest of the family. I was worried that Louisa might be a little too much of a “good girl” to pull off the heroine role, but in Jennifer Ashley’s hands I had nothing to worry about. This murder is exactly what was needed to shake her foundations just enough for Louisa to focus on what needs to be done rather than what is expected of her and my God, *fans self* the heat between her and Lloyd! More than one reader would be more than willing to be ravished on Lloyd’s office desk, I’m thinking.
This outstanding novella carries all the hallmarks of a Jennifer Ashley romance – strong heroine, plenty of danger, a sexy, smart leading man, and the love of family as a major theme – making it an ideal snack before the slightly bigger meal of the next full length novel, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie, which is coming out on October 1st. We see the young, devilishly handsome Daniel prominently featured in this book as well, and I’m interested how his goals of travel and reaching his engineer potential with his inventions will play out. I bet he’s going to find that woman who will support him in all his work, and I’m not the least bit worried about how young Daniel will be when he finally discovers her. With all the darkness in the lives of his father, Cam, and his uncles, Daniel understands how rare and special true love is, so I’m hoping he’s going to grab it with both hands when it lands in his lap.
Keep in mind that this series is going to run out of characters soon. Ashley recently posted on her excellent blog that her plan is to next publish a novella as well as a novel about the two remaining McBride brothers (brothers-in-law to Cameron Mackenzie), followed by a prequel novella about the Mackenzie ancestor who was the only one of his brothers to survive Culloden. Finally she’ll comfort us with a final novella about the entire family – I’m hoping that one comes with complementary tissues since it will be tough saying goodbye to my favorite Scotsmen and the women in their lives!
Readers of historical romance (or simply romance) will adore the quality writing and characters of the Highland Pleasures series, and this novella is an outstanding addition to a band of brothers finding love despite their rough start in life. Did I mention it’s only $1.99? Get reading!