This post isn’t going to mean much to you if you haven’t read Jennifer Ashley‘s Highland Pleasures series, one of my favorite historical romance series on the market. If you like hot historical romance, I would pose the question – why on earth haven’t you read these yet??? Gorgeous Victorian Scotsmen (nobles, no less) always on the wrong side of scandal lead dissipated, tortured lives until finding the feisty women who complete them. Humor, love, and passion abound in gorgeous settings until you’re ready to go marry the first Mackenzie man you meet.
The previous four books each focused on one of the brothers:
- The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie featuring my favorite Mackenzie brother, Ian, who is autistic (although the time period doesn’t recognize that and simply labels him mad). He meets the wealthy widow Beth Ackerley and knows he must have her as she calms him while inflaming his senses like no other.
- Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage focuses on Mac, the artist brother who – through his alcoholism – estranged his lovely wife Isabella. He’s sober now but wants her back and someone trying to pass off paintings in his name is the perfect excuse to show her he’s changed.
- If Ian is my favorite, Cam is a close second, and in The Many Sins of Lord Cameron, his debauched lifestyle finds a purpose when Queen Victoria’s lady-in-waiting, the beautiful widow Ainsley Douglas, comes to help Isabella with her weekend party for the oldest Mackenzie brother, Hart, the Duke of Kilmorgan. Cam has an older teenage son, Daniel (who is wonderful – I’d marry Cam for Daniel alone), and a host of horrifying memories from his first wife who was insane. But Ainsley teaches him how to trust, and shows him that she’s happier with him and Daniel in the country with the thoroughbreds Cam trains than with jewels and parties in Europe.
- The Duke’s Perfect Wife finally shows Hart Mackenzie, the Machiavellian political manipulator with a penchant for very specific sexual tastes, vulnerable to one woman, Eleanor Ramsay, who spurned him years ago. They’ve never stopped loving each other, even from afar when Hart finally married, losing his mouse of a wife and newborn to childbed fever. He’s been a widow for some time but when Eleanor pops into his life to avert a scandal that might cost him some of his hard won political power, he sees it as a sign he’s meant to get her back into his life.
I can’t emphasize enough how much you fall in love with these couples, and seeing each of them happy in subsequent books, with babies coming and Daniel growing up and headed to university, is so gratifying. The secondary characters, particularly of the quirky servants who surround the Mackenzies (they are an eccentric bunch) and the various in-laws offer no end of entertainment and run throughout the series.
So with that in mind, you can imagine how fantastic an e-novella like this is for Mackenzie fans. We see all our wonderful couples and their families, with Hart and Eleanor married for about a year and expecting a baby around the holidays. Naturally all the Mackenzies have gathered at the ducal castle, along with a host of related family members and are gearing up to celebrate Christmas (for the Sassenachs among them, the Scots make their big holiday Hogmanay, or New Year’s). Everyone is worried about Eleanor who is thirty-three and having her first child. She’s pretty uncomfortable and fairly bedridden at eight months pregnant, but it doesn’t stop Hart from lavishing her with attention even while he stays awake with the fear of losing her.
Ian is getting a lot of attention as well. He’s tracked down one of his fantastically expensive Ming bowls, this time from an elusive Russian aristocrat who was a reluctant seller, but tragedy strikes when the bowl is broken. When Ian retreats to his room, everyone worries he’s going to have another episode, but he’s secretly working on a very “Ian” gift for Beth and his children. Cam and Ainsley have their hands full with their daughter little Gavina, and Mac is painting something extra special for Isabella.
Jennifer Ashley is a master of laying the foundation for future books and she doesn’t ease up just because this is a self-published novella. When Isabella’s sister Louisa arrives and spots Lloyd Fellows, the Mackenzie born on the wrong side of the blanket to a Cockney mistress of the late earl, all she can think of is how she boldly kissed him at Cam and Ainsley’s wedding and how it was wonderful. But she’s determined to restore some of her family’s besmirched honor (between Isabella’s scandalous elopement and their father’s frittering away the family fortune, the Scrantons have a somewhat blackened name). Being interested in a common detective is not going to help Lady Louisa’s goals. (We’re going to see Lloyd and Louisa’s story in August 2013 in The Untamed Mackenzie, #5.5 in the series.)
Ainsley’s delicious Scottish brothers cause no end of story ideas to flow for Ashley as well. Confusingly, her brother Elliot is shown as being married, although his book, The Seduction of Elliot McBride doesn’t actually come out until December 31, 2012 (and yes, I have preordered it for Kindle delivery on the stroke of Hogmanay!). Wouldn’t that make Mackenzie Family Christmas number 5.25 in the series? I’m incredibly intrigued by Elliot without even knowing him, since his post-traumatic stress from his service in India is what gave Ainsley the ability to understand her husband Cam’s innermost demons.
Two other hints are thrown our way for future books – Daniel indicates he has a few more years to sow his wild oats while working on his engineering projects and being a scientist (and I knew from the start that this young Mackenzie was going to fall hard and young surrounded by all these men finding their true loves). His book, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (#6) has an October 1, 2013 release and I’m warning people now not to bother me that day.
Ainsley’s older brother, the widower Sinclair McBride, lost his beloved wife five years earlier and can’t seem to manage his two hellion children. The Mackenzie nanny makes it quite clear he’s got to get himself a good governess after his son sets fire to his bed (by accident). I’m guessing 2014 will have us see the publication of Rules for a Proper Governess (#7) where Sinclair and his children will finally meet their match. Ashley’s website indicates an unnamed #6.5 book in the series, so I’ll eagerly see what comes of that!
When so many authors crank out a tepid novella for a holiday tie-in, Jennifer Ashley gives us an emotionally poignant and always fun glimpse of the wild, loving Mackenzie family at Christmastime. I would say that she managed to give her fans of the Highland Pleasures series “the perfect gift.” Thanks, Jennifer!