Scotsman of My Dreams
Karen Ranney’s MacIain series moves away from Scotland for the second book, Scotsman of My Dreams, a well-written and very enjoyable character-driven romance featuring a hedonist who returns from war a very different man to the one who went away and the forthright woman who helps him to regain his confidence and find his purpose in life.
Dalton MacIain, the middle of the three sons of the Earl of Rathsmere, was a hellraiser and became something of an icon to the many bored younger sons of the ton who attempted to emulate him. Deciding that life as a rakehell wasn’t interesting or exciting enough, Dalton decided to go to fight in the Civil War in America, and a group of his younger acolytes accompanied him, earning them all the nickname of “MacIain’s Marauders”. The dozen of them who went chose which side they would fight for on the simple toss of a coin, seeing as none of them had any particular loyalty either way; Dalton and four others ended up fighting for the North, while the others took up arms for the South.
Dalton soon discovers that his dreams of action, excitement and glory are just that – dreams – and that the realities of war are far more gruesome than he could have imagined. He is contemplating a return to England when he is shot; and when, after months of convalescence in America and a long sea voyage he arrives home, it’s to be told that his older brother, Arthur, is dead and that he is now the Earl of Rathsmere.
Burying himself away in his London home, Dalton becomes something of a recluse. The bullet which narrowly missed spattering his brains all over American soil took his right eye and has almost completely deprived him of his sight in his left, so he is, to all intents and purposes, blind. He misses Arthur more than he could have thought possible and doubts his ability to run the earldom as well as his brother; he’s purposeless and directionless, drinks too much and wonders whether he’d have been better off if the bullet had done its job.
When Minerva Todd, the sister of one of his merry band, bursts into his home, demanding to know what has become of her brother, Dalton angrily turns her away. The woman is incredibly persistent, however, and refuses to leave him alone until she gets some answers, even going so far as to follow him on the rare occasions he leaves his house. Furious, Dalton eventually tells her the truth; he has no idea where her brother is and couldn’t care less, because the last thing he remembers seeing was Neville Todd aiming a gun at him. Minerva is, quite naturally, horrified and refuses to believe him, but Dalton isn’t interested in what she believes – he may now be blind, but at the time he could see perfectly well, and Todd had attempted to kill him.
Unbeknownst to Minerva, Dalton has already taken steps to find her brother, calling in one of his closest friends, investigator James Wilson. When Dalton tells Wilson that he has recently learned that Arthur’s death may not have been accidental, his friend takes the view that Dalton’s life may still be in danger – and, having gained an idea of who might want him dead, Dalton is inclined to agree.
Realising that Miss Todd is not going to leave him alone, Dalton throws her off balance by inviting her to act as his secretary of sorts. From their encounters so far, he has learned that she will not lie to him, try to cosset him or sugar coat things; she is straightforward to the point of pain sometimes, but that’s exactly what he wants and needs. Minerva agrees, in spite of herself. Even scarred and blind, the earl is as devastatingly attractive as ever, and she is drawn to him in spite of the common sense that tells her that he presents a serious danger to her peace of mind –and her heart.
While there’s a strong element of mystery to this story, the bulk of it is devoted to a very well-developed, tender and often funny romance, and to the rehabilitation of Dalton MacIain. He begins the book as a man wallowing in self-pity and self-doubt, and gradually transforms himself into someone who is aware of his strengths as well as his weaknesses, and who eventually comes to realise that he is more than capable of running an earldom and of taking his rightful place in society. His character progression is very well done, especially in those moments he is brought to the realisation of what a selfish bastard he had been by small things, such as when he wonders whether he ever actually bothered to thank his housekeeper for her excellent work before, or when he realises that he doesn’t know the names of his servants and what they all do. The fact that he is blind obviously means that he cannot return to his previous lifestyle, but it also gives him the breathing space to realise that he doesn’t want to – and that he wants to make something of his life.
Minerva is an unusually forthright heroine, even for a genre that is riddled with them! She is outspoken and sexually experienced, having decided in her mid-twenties that marriage was unlikely but that she didn’t want to go through life without having experienced passion; she eschews corsets, stays and petticoats whenever she can, and even wears trousers (well, a sort of divided skirt!). Her real passion is archaeology, and she looks forward to returning to a site in Scotland that she visits regularly – but has delayed her most recent trip due to her desperation to find her brother. But underneath her tough exterior, is a lonely woman who can be easily wounded, one with a great capacity for love and affection, who spent her life trying to be proper until she realised that propriety wasn’t making her happy. This underlying vulnerability, together with her no-nonsense attitude makes her an attractive and sympathetic heroine.
The mystery element of the story is perhaps overly simplistic, although it does reach a satisfactory conclusion. The romance, however, is very good indeed. Dalton and Minerva are a well-matched pair; neither of them cares overmuch for society’s approval, and they are both stubborn, determined people. The dialogue zings with sexual energy and attraction, and the genuine friendship that develops between them is every bit as enjoyable as the love story. I enjoyed Scotsman of My Dreams very much and am definitely going to be reading the next book in the series.