After the Kiss

An Unlikely Governess

The Devil Wears Tartan

Heaven Forbids

The Irresistible McRae

My Beloved

My True Love

My Wicked Fantasy

One Man's Love

A Scotsman in Love

When the Laird Returns

Sold to a Laird
by Karen Ranney
(Avon, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-06-177175-0
One of the few perks of reviewing online (other than the free books) is the opportunity to sound off about something that really bothers me about the romance publishing industry.  Just recently, I complained about the trite and misleading titles that are becoming so commonplace, filled with rogues and wicked whatevers and scoundrels.  I guess I have to add “laird” to my list, since the hero of this book, while a very interesting guy, is not a laird.  But this is actually the least of the sins that her publisher commits against long-time author Karen Ranney.

Had another reader whose opinion I respect not spoken highly of the book, I would have avoided it like the plague, thanks to its cheesy and inaccurate title and cover.  And this would have been a real shame because it is a very nice story of a woman’s emotional and sexual awakening at the hands of a great hero.  So I am encouraging those of you who share my sensibilities to give this book a try; but use a covering if you plan to read it in public.

Douglas Eston, a self-made man who has moved far from his origins in the slums of Perth (at least the hero is a Scot, if not a laird), has come to visit the Duke of Herridge seeking his investment in a very unusual but promising scheme: the production of artificial diamonds.  He is startled when the duke’s daughter, Lady Sarah, intrudes on the meeting.  Lady Sarah is clearly desperate and fearful; her father has ordered her very ill mother to leave their home at Chavensworth and to return to Scotland, her homeland.  Sarah knows the trip will kill the duchess and so has dared to confront her domineering and dismissive father.

The duke shocks both Douglas and Sarah when he suggests that, rather than a monetary investment, a more permanent connection could be arranged.  He offers his daughter’s hand in marriage.  Sarah demurs, but has no choice since otherwise her mother will be driven from her home.  For his part, while Douglas has no ambition to marry into the aristocracy, he is immediately taken with the lovely Sarah and her bravery.  On his part, it is a case of love at first sight.  And so the two are married and depart for Chavensworth where Douglas is to continue his experiments.

Lady Sarah is the epitome of mid-Victorian womanhood.  Except for two unsuccessful seasons in London, she has spent her entire life at the family’s estate.  She has been raised to be demure and decorous and responsible, never forgetting that she is the daughter of a duke.  Indeed, since her mother’s lingering and inexplicable illness, she has had the running of the entire estate on her hands.  Indeed, one of the intriguing elements of the book is the description of exactly how much work the management of what is, after, all a large economic enterprise entails.  Douglas is suitably impressed by his new wife’s competence.

Douglas is well aware that this marriage is not of Sarah’s choosing.  He well knows that a young lady of her background and upbringing is probably, at best, uncomfortable with the idea of sexual intimacy.  But Douglas is a patient man and he works at breaking down Sarah’s inhibitions and wooing her.  His concern and care when her mother dies goes a long way to winning her heart.   When the two set out to make a journey into her mother’s past and to uncover its secrets, (yes, about one-fourth of the book is set in Scotland which, I suppose justifies the half-nude tartan clad stud on the cover), the consummation of that love is both erotic and satisfying.

I found the backstory to the romance a bit less satisfying.  I admit to being skeptical about the whole premise of “artificial” diamonds, although in her afterward Ranney insists there really was a process to make such gems in the 1850s but that the formula has been lost.  (Considering that the process blows up things regularly, this may be a good thing.)   I found the overactive ending of the story a bit much, although it does seem to fit into what I perceive to be a current trend in historical romances: last minute, dangerous crises where all seems lost so that the happy ending can be more dramatic.

But Ranney’s success in creating an attractive heroine and a compelling hero and giving them a lovely romance outweighs any problems I might have with the book and leads me to recommend it.  Just ignore the title and the cover. 

--Jean Mason

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