Saturday 12 September 2015

#CBR7 Book 87: "When a Scot Ties the Knot" by Tessa Dare

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Shy and scientifically-minded Miss Madeline Gracechurch suffers from anxiety attacks and couldn't bear the thought of having to be out in society during the Season. So she comes up with a fictional suitor, a strapping and handsome Scotsman that she met on the beach in Brighton and who's unfortunately gone off to fight Napoleon. She keeps writing letters to the brave Captain Logan MacKenzie to keep up with the fiction that their feelings for one another are so strong that she couldn't possibly interact with other men and jilt her absentee beau. As the years go by, the letters become a diary of sorts for Madeline, where she confesses her hopes, fears and dreams and shares tales of her family and her scientific explorations. Her godfather even bequeaths her a castle in the Scottish highlands so she and her future husband will have somewhere to live when he returns from the war.

In time, Madeline is unable to continue her fiction, and kills off her fictional fiancee, going into deep mourning instead. She moves with her great aunt to the Scottish castle, content to go about her quiet life, tending to the tenants, using her artistic skills to make a living illustrating scientific papers. So imagine her surprise when a tall, handsome soldier appears on her doorstep, claiming he is Captain Logan MacKenzie, back from the war, ready to finally marry his sweetheart. He's read every single letter Madeline sent, and now her deceptions will allow him to secure a decent future for those of his men who don't have any other homes to return to. Madeline can't very well confess to all and sundry that she's been living a lie since she was a teenager, even accepting the inheritance of a castle as a result. Can she really marry a total stranger, just to protect her reputation?

With a lot of Tessa Dare's recent novels, you don't really have to suspend your disbelief as throw it out the window, waving at it as it flies away. She writes such frothy, witty, engaging romances that I can't bring myself to care if the premise or plot is preposterous. In Any Duchess Will Do we go along with the idea that a Dowager Duchess would be so desperate for grandchildren that she will happily let her son marry a tavern maid. In Romancing the Duke there is pretty much a fandom convention, complete with cosplayers, despite it being a Regency novel. In When a Scot Ties the Knot a retiring young lady believes that she's sending letters to a fictional recipient that will end up in a dead letter office, but that are actually received by a young Scottish recruit. Logan ignores the mockery and jeers from his fellow soldiers and works his way up to become the Captain the letters address him as, then travels to seek out the woman who wrote them.

Having been orphaned at an early age, Logan MacKenzie was taken in by a parson who raised him along his own sons, not so much out of charity as to make sure that he could send the orphan off to war and save his own children that fate. Years on the battlefield, starting out at the very bottom, fighting his way through the ranks and across Europe has scarred Logan both physically and emotionally. He received every single one of Madeline's letters, reading and memorising the words she never believed anyone would see. Daring to dream of her, even when she didn't know he existed, realising that she killed him off was a serious blow. So he has no compunctions using her for his own ends when he and his men need a place to settle after the war is over. The letters provide wonderful blackmail fodder, and Madeline has after all profited nicely from her deceit. He's destitute and feels deeply responsible for the men who are still with him, all scarred from the war in different ways. She's the mistress of a castle and lands in the Scottish highlands, independent and prosperous. That she's pretty and appears to have a bit of a temper is just a bonus.

Madeline feels she has no choice but to agree to Logan's demands that they marry, but she's hoping to steal her letters back from him before they actually consummate the union and make it legal. She's mortified that all her years of intimate confessions weren't just thrown away, but read over and over again - that her fictional suitor was a real flesh and blood man. And what a man he turned out to be - tall, handsome, brave and fierce (Anyone who tells me that Tessa Dare didn't model Logan on Sam Heughan's portrayal of Jamie Fraser in Outlander is a big fat LIAR). While shy and prone to panic attacks when in a crowd, Madeline isn't blind and the imposing Captain MacKenzie affects her in all sorts of ways. As her family actually believed her stories, sympathising deeply with her first with her separation and then with her apparent grief when they believed her fiancee died, she really can't bear the thought of disappointing them all with the truth to her schemes.

As she spends time with Logan, seeing him interact with his men, realising quickly that it's not just greed or some sort of twisted wish for revenge against a woman who unknowingly used him that's making him want marriage. Madeline's lands will provide a place for Logan's men to settle down, a chance for them to support themselves, maybe marry and start new families, having lost everything they had when off fighting for Britain in the war. Logan comes to realise that while he read all of her letters, facing the woman who wrote them is a very different thing. Because he also wanted those around him to believe his attachment to Madeline was real, not wanting his men to believe him faithless, he's been forced to stay celibate and loyal to a woman he'd never even met. He has years of unresolved sexual tension to work through, yet doesn't force himself on his new wife when she asks that they wait. He naturally uses everything he's got to try to make her desire him as much as he does her, with assorted (and hilarious advice) from his men.

I liked Logan and Madeline and their romance a lot. The supporting characters were really well established and while the premise for the story was crazy, it worked out very well. I liked how neither of them diminished the hopes and dreams of the other and how the complications of the romance were resolved. There is a sub-plot involving mating lobsters that we'll just quickly skip over, the less said about it the better. From the descriptions, it sounds like Madeline's work room would give me the willies, but it's always nice to have a nerdy heroines. According to Ms. Dare's website, both her next novella, due around Christmas, and her next full-length novel will feature the return of Spindle Cove characters. This makes me extremely happy.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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