The MacKenzies: Jake
Ana Leigh has apparently had great success with The MacKenzies series of western romances, but the appeal of Jake is largely illusory. From a small historical “fox paw” at the beginning to a conflict that never fully makes sense, this is one of those books that leaves you shaking your head, wondering why you’ve spent three or four hours reading it.
The prologue of Jake is set in 1877 and features Beth MacKenzie at college, presumably Radcliffe, where she meets about-to-be Harvard grad Jake Carrington, with whom she has a torrid weekend-long affair. Remember, this is 1877, not 1977 – colleges had strict rules about male/female propriety and, whether in a dorm room or a fraternity house, weekend guests of the opposite sex were forbidden. If a woman did not return to her dormitory on time, she would likely be expelled. This issue is neither explored nor discussed. Instead, after she and Jake make passionate love all weekend, she overhears his frat brothers talk about her as another notch on his belt, so to speak. Destroyed, she runs off, leaving Jake unable to explain himself.
Frankly, it’s a good thing she did, because Jake apparently did have ulterior motives for seeking Beth out and seducing her. Okay – bear with me now, because it gets pretty darn sticky. Jake’s pa and Beth’s pa were railroad rivals – both wanted to be awarded a line between Denver and Dallas. Beth’s pa won the line and Jake’s pa believes Mr. MacKenzie bribed some congressmen to beat him out. Mr. Carrington swears revenge, and though there is no love lost between Jake and his pa, Jake assumes his pa’s revenge as his father lay dying. Before he can carry it out, however, Beth’s pa dies, so he transfers the revenge to her, which is why he ended up seducing her.
Three years later, the MacKenzie-owned Rocky Mountain Railroad is in trouble – bank notes are overdue, and Beth, who runs the company, has gone to beg the bank for another extension, only to discover the debts were bought up by the Lone Star Railroad, the Carrington-family company. Jake informs Beth that he is out for revenge; unless she plays it his way, he’ll end up with the whole kit and kaboodle. But he seems to feel his revenge won’t be complete unless she marries him. He knows this will make her unhappy, and though he has been obsessed with her body and mind for three years, he says he wants her to be miserable.
If you are confused about this dubious logic, you are not alone. Forcing a woman to marry you for revenge on her father would seem to work only if the father were alive to see it and fret over it. Now, if he out-and-out planned for her to fall in love with him during their weekend tryst so that he could not love her in return, that would indeed be a devious plan and would give him his revenge. But none of this is ever made clear, and, frankly, just trying to figure it out gave me a headache.
Beth must hide from her sisters the real reason behind her marriage to Jake – they think his obsession with her is romantic. If they ever knew the real motive was revenge, they’d never go along with it and the family would lose the railroad. Beth and her sisters do not seem like women of the 80’s – the 1880’s, that is. On the night of her wedding, they get drunk and talk about sex like modern women at a Houlihan’s Happy Hour. If the point of historical romance is to give a flavor (at the very least) of the period, why did these women act in so modern a manner?
After their marriage, Beth denies her body to Jake, but he manages to steal kisses and more until Beth realizes she can wield power over him through sex. This lasts for about five minutes until she realizes sex without love, though damn good, is not good enough for her. She wages an internal battle with herself about her “dark side” so much that it was like listening to Darth Vader imploring Luke to see the “power of the dark side of the Force.”
Beth and Jake live in his family’s mansion in Dallas with his beloved grandmother and his cousin Stephen’s family. Stephen is jealous of Jake, the family servants all treat Beth like dirt, and the daughter of a family friend is trying to get her hooks into Jake. As if that weren’t enough, someone seems to be threatening Beth. Can This Marriage Be Saved?
Jake’s grandmother befriends Beth, and their time together is sweet. There is one other sweet moment in the book – one of Jake’s old friends asks Beth at one point whether Jake knows how much she loves him, and she can’t answer because she herself doesn’t know. Until then, their constant disagreements and hubba-hubba nighttime activities seemed silly, but being confronted about her obvious emotions by a stranger cut to the core of this overblown mess.
There is some clever writing in Jake near the end, but I can’t get into it without giving away more of the story than I already have. There is also a MacKenzie reunion at the end, which is often the case in books that are a part of the series. But unless you’ve read all the earlier books, many of those introduced in the final pages will bring more of a yawn to your face than a tear to your eye.