And the Bride Wore Plaid
I’ve been hearing good things about Karen Hawkins for a while. She’s an up and comer at Avon and the chatter and reviews have been mostly positive. All of which is why I was happy to be able to read her latest – and why I’m disappointed with the result. It’s been a long time since I’ve had an author’s backlist to gobble up. If I’d loved And the Bride Wore Plaid then there’d be a whole backlist for me to glom. In this case, I’m not sure I’ll even pick up one more.
Ms. Hawkin’s writes solidly but she lost me almost immediately with the premise and never really got me back. Devon St. John is fleeing to the home of his good friend Malcolm Macdonald, Viscount Strathmore, of Kilkairn Castle in Scotland. Devon is desperate to outrun the St. John family talisman ring, which is said to bring marriage to the bearer. Much to his dismay he finds that his newly married brother slipped the ring into his carriage. So now even Scotland isn’t safe, and since Devon has no desire to marry he decides to find someone to shack up with instead. Dev figures if he’s busy getting busy, then he can’t be trapped by marriage.
Luckily for Devon the first (okay, first attractive) woman he runs into – and by this I mean kisses and fondles – is a comely maid who appears in his bedroom. Hurray! He’s found the woman he can sleep with and not have to worry about any pesky ceremony. Drat! She’s not a maid, she’s Malcolm’s half-sister, Katherine “Kat” Macdonald. Not to worry, she’s also a bastard and was ruined socially when she ran off with a man who promised marriage and didn’t deliver. Whew! How nice for Devon. He can pursue an affair with her – his friend’s half-sister (albeit an illegitimate one) – without a qualm. Obviously she’s available and obviously she’ll welcome the chance to sleep with him. (Obviously this book hit a few of my buttons.)
In general, “hero guy wanting to make heroine gal his mistress because he wants her but doesn’t want marriage” isn’t a favorite plot device for me. I have read many, many of them and enjoyed some. A lot rests on the timing. How soon does the hero make the switch to thinking of the heroine as something other then as the object of his lust? That’s the kicker. In this case, even though Devon has a reason (lame though it is) it’s not soon enough.
The hero’s unheroic behavior aside, the primary reason this plot fails more often then it succeeds is the correlation between the continuing bad behavior of the hero and how it weakens the heroine. Devon insists on getting Kat into bed while she insists on resisting. This is a romance, so where would we be if that were the end of that? As a romance this cannot be the end – Kat must give in. Kat genuinely wantd Devon and cares about him. She’s a strong, beautiful (his word), independent woman who knows what she’s feeling. All of that gives her credibility. Yet she’s accepting crumbs when it comes to her relationship. Two-thirds through the book Devon tells Kat:
“Kat, as much as I wish it was otherwise, I cannot seem to remain enamored of a woman for more then two months.It sounds bad even to my own ears, so I cannot imagine how horrid it sounds to yours. I cannot help it; I grow bored after a short time, so I know I can never marry. I will not make a promise I cannot keep.”And this is what she replies:
“This is how it should be. You are very honorable.”
What?! If he’s so concerned about how he might feel two months down the road, why doesn’t he just wait two months? Why doesn’t she demand it? Kat herself is the result of a liaison between two people who weren’t married. Why would she risk a similar outcome?
Commitment issues are a running theme. Malcolm and his wife Fiona also experience difficulties. And in many ways they are the more interesting pair. They’re married but are at a terrible impasse. Neither is sure they can weather this storm. Interesting. The tension caused by their rift is palpable and believable. But even here the issues seem forced and unnecessarily prolonged.
Perhaps that’s what it all comes down to. Too much of the conflict feels like it was created by an author to make the book last longer. Add this to a premise that’s grating to begin with, and you have a book that’s tough to enjoy. I didn’t.