Kissing the Countess
This book starts with such promise it’s hard to believe it becomes so thoroughly bogged down with its own minutiae in the middle. Had the author focused more intently on her hero and heroine, and less on ancillary details, it would have been a riveting story. As it is, however, it is one good story sandwiched within a lot of unnecessary pages.
Evan Mackenzie, the Earl of Kildonan, has lived in the Lowlands of Scotland for most of his life. Only after the death of his father does he return to the Highlands, and even then he plans on only a temporary stay. An avid mountain-climber, Evan falls from a snowy Scottish mountain-top and is found lying unconscious by Catriona MacConn, a Highland woman who is the daughter of the local clergyman. The two of them are forced to spend the night alone together, and Evan, being the gentleman he is, offers marriage.
Catriona has resigned herself to a life as the Plain Girl -the youngest daughter whose job it is to stay at home and take care of her parents. Her mother is dead, her sisters are all wed, and her one remaining brother is the factor (overseer) for the Earl’s lands. Since Catriona’s oldest brother lost his life trying to climb one of the perilous mountains, she is understandably concerned when she sees Evan lying unconscious. Catriona doesn’t consider herself beautiful, and in fact her nickname is Catriona Mhor, meaning “Big Catriona” and, since she’s larger than her father, she often feels ugly and large. Trapped in the cabin alone with Evan, she decides to enjoy the moment since she thinks she is unlikely ever to experience passion again in her life. The fact that Evan is larger than she, very handsome, and treats her as if she is beautiful, is certainly no deterrent.
Evan is a bridge engineer, haunted by a tragic accident. He didn’t know his father very well, but knows enough about him to realize that he was not good for the land. His father (and his own conscience) have left him with debts he can assuage only by selling off some of the land. After spending a short time with Catriona, he knows he loves her, but also realizes that there are many impediments to her loving him.
A born-and-bred Highlander who cannot see herself ever leaving her home, Catriona feels awkward in her new position as Countess, made doubly difficult by her tenuous relationship with Evan. After their first cabin consummation, Evan tells her he doesn’t want to commit to a physical relationship until she is certain she wants, and will work for, this marriage. Catriona, although attracted to Evan, is naturally mistrustful of the landed gentry, and also possesses some secrets she cannot afford to reveal to Evan.
Catriona and Evan are both interesting, multi-faceted characters. Evan is thoughtful, conscientious, intelligent, humble, and forthright. And while he’s also exceedingly practical, he begins to discover his romantic side as he falls for Catriona. As for Catriona, she is clever, creative, musical, and passionate. She is also used to being trampled by the men in her life, and Evan is the first man to whom she really stands up.
The details on mountain-climbing, geology, Scottish weather, and customs, even songs and traditional Highland life, though interesting in and of themselves, are out of place in this romance. There are literally pages and pages of conversation about rocks, and when Catriona and Evan are not center-stage, the action definitely lags. The villain is also cartoonish, predictable, and not all that villainish, at least not until the very end.
Kissing The Countess is flawed by its author’s fascination with a lot of topics unrelated to her hero and heroine’s HEA. The writing is good, the characterization is excellent for the two protagonists, but the overabundance of unrelated details, two-dimensional secondary characters and slow action makes it ultimately dissatisfying.