|When I review a book that is part of a series, I try to assess whether it stands on its own. This time, I have a very different problem. I can't talk about Her Scoundrel without hinting at the final part of Her Bodyguard. So I am issuing a spoiler alert: do not continue if you have any intention of reading the first of the McBride Menace stories. That said, Her Scoundrel is quite understandable without any knowledge of Kat's earlier adventures. Frequent mention of her no-good husband Rory Calhoun and his misdeeds may well impel readers to pick up the earlier volume. Believe me, it would be more of a pleasure than a chore.
When last seen in the novel devoted to her sister Mari, Kat is grieving for Rory and vowing to give her unborn child the best possible life. Now, several months later, she is determined to get back the Sacred Heart Cross, a priceless antique treasure and Rory's only legacy to the baby. Jake Kimball, a wealthy adventurer and collector of Texicana, claims it is legally his. He would, however, exchange it for Kat's green pendant. Since the McBride sisters believe it is part of a set that will help vanquish their bad-luck curse, Kat adamantly refuses.
Jake has his own family-related superstitions. He won't relinquish the cross because it was his last gift to his father, and he wants the pendant because it is a replica of the one he saw in a strange dream during a Himalayan snowstorm. He also lost his older brother during that same expedition, a fact which gives the dream and the pendant extra importance. Thanks to highly implausible circumstances, Jake eventually gets it. Kat, on the other hand, momentarily forsakes the Sacred Cross, believing she has another mission to pursue.
The two meet in London several years later, after life has dealt them a cruel hand. Jake now has custody of his dead sister's five children (whose mischievous ways, we are told, "out-menace the Menaces"). Though he loves the children, he doesn't feel capable of taking care of them. And, of course, he doesn't want to give up his adventuring life. He advertises for a bride with every intention of leaving for the Far East once the children and their surrogate mother are settled.
Kat, who has suffered her own loss, does not apply for the job, but she does persuade her older sister Emma to do so. She has apparently not given up her quest for the Sacred Cross and plans on snooping around his home while he is busy interviewing Emma. Obviously not the most brilliant idea, and fortunately we are not expected to buy it for too long. Jake sees through her plot and decides she's the one for him - or rather his children.
Once Jake convinces Kat to accept his proposal, he won't let her talk him out his plans to leave. When he finally relents, it is a little late. He will have a much harder job winning her the second time. After all, they have to answer to both his dream vision and her bad-luck curse.
A clearly-defined three-act structure gives the potentially disparate episodes coherence, highlighting the characters' evolving relationship and their personal growth. While Jake's literal turn-around rings a little hollow, Kat's development is more convincing. I both laughed and cried as I watched her confront her fate. In a novel that spans close to a decade, she matures from a disillusioned youngster to an insecure mother and finally to a woman who knows the value of life - including living it for the moment. With Kat refusing to forgive Jake, the last third dragged out a bit, but I don't see how else it could have been done without selling her character short.
Despite some darker moments, Dawson hasn't forsaken her characteristic comic style. Some of the pranks are silly, but the honeymoon scenes are quite ingenious. When Jake entertains Kat by enacting imaginary trips to romantic locations, she very cleverly turns his male fantasies about Arab sheikhs and docile slave girls into something much more pleasurable for an independent woman like her.
Needless to say there's another Menace story in the making. Older sister Emma takes off in the middle of the book and ends with just enough bad luck to ensure that we will be waiting impatiently to hear the rest.