A Forbidden Liaison with Miss Grant
Marguerite Kaye is one of my favourite authors and is someone I know can be relied upon to create interesting characters and situations that are firmly grounded in their historical settings, while also crafting a compelling and emotional romance between her hero and heroine. Readers – like me – who are always on the look-out for historicals featuring non-titled heroes will want to give A Forbidden Liaison with Miss Grant a look, as will those interested in reading a love story between a more mature couple.
In 1822, the city of Edinburgh is frantically preparing for a highly anticipated visit by King George IV, the first visit to the city by a reigning British monarch since 1651. Miss Constance Grant watches it all with a sense of frustration; after the clearance (a common practice at this time, wherein landowners evicted their tenants to make way for more profitable flocks of sheep) of the Highland village of Clachan Bridge left her homeless, she was offered a home by a dear friend of her late mother’s and now resides with that lady in Edinburgh. It’s perhaps not what she had envisioned for herself, but during the last four years, she has found renewed purpose in working tirelessly to bring to light the horrors being committed in the Scottish Highlands in the name of progress, to speak out on behalf of those who are unable to speak for themselves – the ever dwindling numbers of Highland inhabitants who are likely to soon face eviction. However, as she approaches her fortieth birthday, Constance is starting to wonder if her efforts have been in vain:
Had this crusade lost its purpose, leaving her in limbo, unable to give up on it, yet failing to make any headway?… Six years was a big chunk of a life to be rootless and homeless, expending her time on a cause few cared about.
Grayson Maddox, a widower in his early forties, is the owner of a successful shipbuilding business on the Clyde. He’s the epitome of the self-made man; he’s worked hard for what he has and now enjoys a life of considerable comfort and ease, but he never forgets where he’s come from. After the loss of his wife eight years earlier, he’s devoted his life to two things – his business and his children – and has had no time, or desire really, for anything else. Until he meets a confident, alluring woman down at the Leith docks and feels an immediate sense of familiarity and connection the like of which he’s never felt with anyone. After they make their introductions, Grayson finds himself babbling about his reasons for being in Edinburgh (to secure accommodation for his family during the King’s visit), about his business, about his children… and when he collects himself and apologises for pouring all this out to a complete stranger, he offers to leave Constance to enjoy the view in solitude – but she stops him.
Ms. Kaye evokes the instant connection and attraction that zings between Constance and Grayson superbly well, creating something so visceral that it leaps off the page. After a little more conversation and then a shared meal, during which the couple acknowledge the strength of their mutual attraction, they spend a passionate afternoon in bed, something as unexpected as it is intensely fulfilling for both of them. Afterwards, Grayson sees Constance home, and as they prepare to say goodbye, they realise that they don’t want to, that the connection they feel is something extraordinary and that they want to spend more time together, just talking and, as Grayson puts is “letting the world go hang” for a little while. He’s in Edinburgh for a few more days – Constance agrees to see him again until the end of his visit.
Both Constance and Grayson go into this … whatever it is… knowing that it has an end date and with no expectations of each other. But it’s very clear to the reader that the damage has been done and they’re already more than half in love with each other – and that they know it as well, although they’re both in strong denial. They both have their own very different lives to go back to, so wanting something that simply can’t be is pointless and will just make their eventual parting even more painful. But as we follow them through the week it’s obvious they’re made for each other; they talk about their lives, their pasts, their hopes -about almost everything… but that ‘almost’ is the thing that may eventually divide them.
The author’s eye for historical detail is superb; the visit by George IV to Edinburgh was greeted by almost delirious enthusiasm and elevated into a grand spectacle by Sir Walter Scott, who invented many rites which were subsequently hailed as ancient traditions in his quest to present the King as a new Jacobite monarch who was as much a Stuart by blood as Bonnie Prince Charlie. It was a three-ring-circus and then some, and I enjoyed Constance and Grayson’s quiet cynicism about it all.
On the downside however, some of that detail was perhaps just a tiny bit of overkill at times, as I found myself eager for the next conversation between Constance and Grayson about something other than the ridiculous pageantry or shipbuilding. It was all very interesting, don’t get me wrong, I just found it interrupted the flow of the romantic storyline at times. And also, while the romance is utterly gorgeous and the genuine emotional connection between the leads is palpable, when it really comes down to it, the reasons keeping the couple apart are not all that convincing. Grayson has devoted his life to his work and to his children – which also brings with it a complicated family situation – while Constance has devoted hers to her writing; and while I can see how her ‘radical’ sympathies could cause problems for Grayson, they spend so much time thinking about how they can’t be together, that they don’t stop to consider what they could do in order to make it possible for them to make a future together. And in the end, it’s all sorted out in a couple of pages.
Those quibbles apart however, A Forbidden Liaison with Miss Grant is a beautifully sensual character-driven romance featuring an attractive couple whose life experience and maturity makes for a refreshingly different and thoroughly enjoyable love story.