When a Lady Kisses a Scot
Tara Kingston’s books tend to have a lot of fun playing with romance conventions, so I wasn’t surprised that When a Lady Kisses a Scot wasn’t a straight-up historical romance. While When a Lady Deceives was a historical noir, this one’s a gothic horror piece, complete with murderous cults, evil rituals and bloody murder. But sadly, poor research, uneven character development and a really poorly defined hero make it an imperfect read.
Rose Fleming left Scotland on the back of a swift horse after her older brother was murdered by Cyril Merrick, an associate of her late father’s who will never stop in his quest to kill the entire Fleming family. Her beloved Aunt Helen swore to the police that Rose, too, was dead in order to throw Merrick off the scent. In the ten years since, Rose has been living as a stage actress in London and New York. But now an assassin sent by Merrick has surfaced, and there’s only one man who can protect her.
MacAllister – Mac – Campbell was once Rose’s beau and protector, but his misplaced sense of honor drove them apart, sending him to London where he became a spy for the Crown. He’d always believed Aunt Helen’s lie about Rose’s death – but now the truth is standing before him, pulling him into a fake kiss to drive away an assassin.
As Rose tries to dig up the truth about why her family has been in Merrick’s crosshairs for decades, she is led to a circle of occultists. Rose’s father betrayed the pact he made with them, and Rose – bearing the mark of the cult – is tied to Merrick’s life. As long as she lives, he’s in danger. Thus Rose needs the help of Mac and his secret agent friends to stay alive. With her skills and his connections that shouldn’t be too scary a deed. Right?
The mystery in When a Lady Kisses A Scot is truly interesting and filled with chilly doom, which makes the pages speed along at a surprising clip. It takes the medium-mania that was happening just around the the time the book is set and turns it into something fascinating. But we’re here for the romance – and the romance, tragically, is just an okay secondary attraction to the mystery.
Rose is a good heroine, believable in a lot of ways, but sometimes it’s hard to get a bead on how she feels. Sometimes her actress training kicks in and she’s cool and fearless and smart, and at others, she legitimately feels lost and afraid. But I liked her determination to finish things, no matter how foolhardy that choice might be.
Mac, however, is another of King’s bland heroes. He’s skilled, caring, loyal and likes how Rose looks in a pair of breeches, but there’s nothing very interesting about him or his backstory. The tale is all about Rose and who she is; he simply sweeps in to be handsome and adoring.
Rose and Mac have a banter-filled, witty relationship that’s fairly enjoyable, though not particularly exciting. You could make a drinking game around the number of times they set in to flirt and banter, only to be interrupted by a grizzly crime. And this is one grisly book, as anything about cultists should be, but it constantly dashes between these two elements and the romance suffers as a result.
Speaking of grisly: continuity and research are not the author’s friends. For instance, a big deal is made of the falcon tattoo Rose bears on her hip; it’s what connects her to the cult and thusto Merrick and her Destiny. She and Mac have earthshaking sex mid-book… and somehow when he notes the tattoo, it’s moved to her upper thigh. I actually back-tracked to be completely sure I hadn’t missed anything while reading, but nope – it just hops around from one part of her body to the next! This is unforgivably sloppy, as is Rose and Mac rapturously talking about reading H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, which wasn’t published until a year after the book is set. And for those expecting this romance about two people of Scottish heritage to be set in Scotland… well, two chapters are set there, with the majority of the action taking place in London and New York.
Unfortunately, the spooky mystery can’t make up for the research errors, dull male lead and mediocre heroics that combine to make When a Lady Kisses a Scot a middling read.