Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage
I’m a big fan of Jennifer Ashley, whose characters are always fantastic and well written. I actually had to stop myself reading Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage so quickly, because that would mean it’d be over soon and I would have to wait for her to write another book. I had a ton of fun reading, but afterward, the story became more and more problematic for me.
Six years earlier Lady Isabella Scranton ran away with Lord Roland “Mac” MacKenzie on the night of her debut ball. They married, lived in utter bliss for three years, and then Isabella created another uproar in London when she left him. Unbeknownst to anyone, she suffered a miscarriage, and Mac had been on another of his drinking binges and hadn’t been home at the time. Although she still loved Mac, she was too hurt by his constant disappearances, and couldn’t stand it any longer. She wrote him a note, and left him.
Now Mac has returned to London to win Isabella back. But before he can make any sort of overture, she bursts into his house, telling him that someone has been using his name, selling paintings supposedly done by him. At first he doesn’t care, until the forger becomes violent, burning his home and threatening his life as well as Isabella’s. Mac decides to remain by her side through the rest of the season, determined to protect Isabella and convince her that they are meant for one another.
The cat and mouse game between Mac and Isabella is deliciously fun, and their tension is only enhanced by the fact that they both openly acknowledge their love for each other. It’s hard not to adore Mac; who could resist a man deeply in love with his own wife and willing to do anything to win her back? I liked Isabella and her staunch defense of Mac; she is truly his biggest, most loyal fan. Possibly there are a few too many gratuitous sex scenes, although I almost didn’t mind.
So I ripped through the first half the book, and was surprised to find that at the point where Mac and Isabella have just reconnected, a bedraggled French woman arrives at their doorstep with a child she claims is Mac’s. They quickly realize that the man who has been forging paintings has also been masquerading as Mac with other women, and this child is his. The woman dies soon after, and Isabella is determined to keep the child. Frankly, I didn’t like this whole Faux-Mac storyline. I thought it was thin, and at some points, very contrived. It pops in and out, depending on whether or not there’s enough going on. This is the same for the other storylines floating around; minor plots are introduced and resolved too quickly, one after another.
Also, because I liked Mac and Isabella so much, I felt like their reminiscing was too focused on their very first meeting, and not at all on the three years they were actually married. Mac keeps calling her his “little debutante,” which, after a while, makes it sound like he’s never quite gotten over that stage of their relationship when she was a virginal miss and he the big, bad wolf. It’s like there’s a giant missing gap between the beginning of the marriage and the separation, and then another gap in which Mac struggles to put his life together. Mac’s journey to sobriety is a huge part of his life, and it is only touched upon very briefly. Similarly, the final reconciliation between Mac and Isabella is fast, and not a little contrived.
In general, when it comes to this kind of story, where the man wronged the woman and is now groveling to get back into the woman’s life, the woman suddenly becomes blind as a bat and refuses to see that the man is recovered and beyond criticism. Mac is almost unbelievably perfect in this story: compassionate, generous, loving, a good brother, sober, very patient, and even freakishly long-lasting in bed. So I think Isabella could have been more generous in the way she finally accepts Mac. He’s just too damn nice in this novel, so when she decides to be stubborn about something, I tended to be on his side.
During their short marriage, Isabella never told him outright that it bothered her when he disappeared for weeks at a time. As someone who insists on speaking their mind, Isabella is infuriatingly silent on this point. This bothered me a lot. I don’t think Mac ever had an inkling that Isabella didn’t like it when he left her to go painting. I couldn’t quite love Isabella; although her pain is understandable, she has a tendency to come off as a little selfish. I didn’t like that Mac bares his heart to her 24/7 and even gets her to admit her love for him, yet Isabella insists on keeping their relationship a purely physical one. Her unwillingness to see beyond the old Mac quickly became stubborn self-centeredness instead of a reaction to past trauma.
The verdict? I still love Jennifer Ashley’s writing. The positive aspect of Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage fully lies in her very likeable, fun characters. Clichés are sprinkled liberally, but barring all those pesky subplots, there are some poignant (and painful) scenes as Isabella and Mac try to overcome the hurt that has built over the years. The scenes with Ian and Beth are a treat, and I can’t wait for Hart and Cameron’s stories.