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Lady Wesley's Salon

Historical romance.

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The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures, #6)
Jennifer Ashley
The Devil of Clan Sinclair  - Karen Ranney 3.5 stars.

This book is the first in a planned series called “Clan Sinclair,” but you won’t find kilts or bagpipes or wee bonnie lasses in this mid-Victorian setting. Macrath Sinclair is a Scotsman who has worked his way up from newsboy to prosperous owner of a printing business in Edinburgh. Macrath also is an inventor, and he’s trying to perfect an ice machine; this aspect of the story is based upon the work of James Harrison, a Scottish-born Australian who wanted to develop refrigeration for transporting beef from Australia to England.

When he accompanies his sister to London for the Season, he meets and falls in love with American heiress Virginia Anderson. Virginia has been brought to London by her high-handed father, who wants a British title in the family and who finds Macrath unsuitable for his daughter. Before she knows what is happening, Virginia is betrothed and quickly married to Lawrence Traylor, Earl of Barrett, and Macrath is back at his Scottish estate, Drumvagen.

Within six months of her marriage, Lawrence, who always had been sickly, dies, leaving Virginia to live with his mother, Enid, and his sisters, Eudora and Ellice. The title, and all of Virginia’s fortune, will go to Lawrence’s ungenerous cousin – unless Virginia produces an heir. Enid urges her to find some gentleman who will help her do so. And quickly. The only man upon whom Virginia can call is Macrath, so immediately after the funeral she and her maid hie off to Scotland.

Macrath is shocked when Virginia shows up on his doorstep, but he shows surprisingly little curiosity about her sudden visit. She is heartbroken to learn that Macrath had written her and tried to see her but been turned away by her (now deceased) father. Virginia confesses how she was forced into marrying by her father and what a miserable marriage she had. Virginia’s mother-in-law had told her that seduction would not be difficult. “All you need do is suggest your willingness and the male will do the rest.” And that’s pretty much what happens.

Macrath and Virginia are as much in love as ever. He asks her to stay with him, but she cannot even though she wants to. She feels a deep responsibility to her surviving family members, who will be penniless if her scheme fails. When she returns to London after only a couple of days, Macrath sets off for Australia, where he’s entered a competition to test refrigeration techniques for transporting beef. During the many months that he’s gone, Virginia gives birth to a son and the title appears to be secured.

During his successful voyage back to London, Macrath decides to set aside his wounded pride, so he sets out immediately to see Virginia and ask her to marry him. After barging his way into Virginia’s house, Macrath discovers from the servants that she is ill with smallpox, but that “the child” is healthy. The child? Suddenly Macrath knows everything, and he is furious. He immediately packs up the baby, the wet nurse, and the nursemaid and takes them all to Scotland.

Although not yet fully recovered, Virginia follows Macrath to Drumvagen, but he won’t even let her in the house. What follows is a war of wits and will between Virginia and Macrath over this tiny beloved baby. It is an complex, angst-ridden story, given that these two people both love and hate one another, and their route to an HEA is neither smooth nor predictable.

I adore Karen Ranney’s writing, but I have two problems with this book. In the first third of the book, the time repeatedly shifts between the past and present. I found this distracting and at times confusing. Second, the solution to most of Macrath’s and Virginia’s problems seems obvious if the pair would only communicate honestly with one another. Of course, then this novel would be only a short story, so I suggest that the reader just roll with it and enjoy the interplay between this luscious hero and his devoted heroine.