After the Kiss

Heaven Forbids

My Beloved

My True Love

My Wicked Fantasy

A Promise of Love

One Man's Love

When the Laird Returns

The Irresistible MacRae by Karen Ranney
(Avon, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-380-82105-2
The Irresistible MacRae, the third in Karen Ranney’s “Highland Lords” series, evokes the Scottish landscape to perfection. One can almost feel the mist. But that’s about all it has going for it. Indecisive characters and a plot with more holes than Swiss cheese make this a disappointing read.

Riona McKinsey is on her way back to her family home, Tyemorn Manor, after a disastrous Season in Edinburgh under the watchful eye of Mrs. Parker, a paid matchmaker. Riona was lured into a garden during a party by Harold McDougal, who wants her fortune. Riona fended him off with a well-placed kick, but the torn lace on the front of her gown made everyone assume the worst, even Mrs. Parker. Since Mrs. Parker is being paid to help Riona find a good husband, it was incomprehensible to me that she’d not only be allowed to denounce Riona as a harlot in front of the assembled Society rather than defend her, but then would be welcomed back at Tyemorn Manor. This is a woman who “had stared down kings and queens of society”. Yet she’s only too happy to see Riona ruined, with no repercussions from Riona’s family.

Riona is in a bind. Her sister, Maureen, is in love with a Captain Hastings, who is the last male of the Hastings line. His family is very high in the instep and won’t tolerate a whiff of scandal. To preserve her sister’s happiness, Riona must marry the odious Harold McDougal, which her mother, Susannah, urges her to do. The thought of summoning Captain Hastings and simply explaining the situation to him never occurs to anybody, least of all the wishy-washy Maureen, who sits around sighing and pining and feeling bad that her sister’s happiness is about to be sacrificed. Harold shows up and the betrothal is announced.

Susannah writes to her friend Fergus MacRae, asking him to come and give her advice. Fergus is about to be married, so he sends his nephew James in his place. James is strikingly handsome, and when Susannah gets a look at him she immediately sets up a scheme to keep him at Tyemorn Manor. Riona is also attracted to James, as he is to her, but they keep their distance due to her betrothal. Susannah attempts to get them together, all the while reminding Riona that she’s going to marry Harold. Also, someone appears to be trying to kill James.

The characters aren’t driving the plot - it’s the other way around. Pretty much everyone in this book is passive about their fate. Riona and James won’t act on their attraction because she’s engaged. Maureen won’t help because what if Captain Hastings objects? Better not find out. Susannah gives the overwhelming impression that her daughters’ happiness is secondary to finding them husbands. Yes, yes, Riona and James are falling in love, but Maureen’s got a big fish on the hook and so does Riona - better not rock the boat. She waffles between reminding Riona that’s she’s engaged and encouraging James in his attention. I never figured out just what Susannah wanted.

Perhaps most annoying of all, the answer to this entire dilemma couldn’t have been more obvious to the reader, and when it was finally employed to wrap up the plot, I could only gape in disbelief. Three hundred pages of waffling about, and the entire conflict is resolved just like that, and off-stage to boot?

James was a lot of fun. It’s always enjoyable to find a hero who doesn’t know what hit him and isn’t sure what to do about it. He tries, really tries, to resist Riona, but eventually just has to kiss her and after that his good intentions are about as effective as spitting on a forest fire. It’s a nice, steamy burn, too. Karen Ranney can write a good love scene with the best of them.

Riona would have been a much more interesting character if she’d used her smarts rather than moping about her fate. She allows Harold to push her into a one-month engagement, for instance. This was an unnecessary contrivance designed to put a time constraint on James and Riona’s relationship. Susannah does nothing to help, though a long engagement would benefit everyone except Harold. Once again, the plot necessities dictate the characters’ actions, and all it does is make them look feeble.

One interesting hero can’t balance an ineffective heroine and a weak plot. The Irresistible MacRae turned out to be completely resistible, after all.

--Cathy Sova

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