I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve found that when I’m backpacking, I do very well with romances. They are entertaining enough to keep my attention in physically uncomfortable circumstances, when exhaustion can make it hard to focus. And as long as I avoid thrillers, they are not scary enough to make me nervous when I’m sleeping alone in the woods. Knowing I was going on a trip, I picked up A Scot in the Dark (2016) by Sarah MacLean.
Lillian Hargrove is a beautiful red-haired woman who, after her father’s death when she was a child, has grown up under the protection of the Duke of Warnick. Not a noblewoman, but not the help, Lily lived a very lonesome life with barely any friendly interactions. When a famous, narcissistic artist notices the gorgeous Lily, her loneliness and lack of experience make her an easy target. The artist seduces her. Instead of marriage, which Lily expected, he leaves her in disgrace with the promise of a public unveiling of a nude painting.
Alec Stuart, the current Duke of Warnick, and Lily’s supposed protector is up at his home in Scotland with zero interest in the English nobility. In an unlikely and farcical manner, Stuart had unwillingly become of the new Duke of Warnick after eighteen (?) or so others had died in a quick and tragic (but not really because we don’t know anything about them) manner. When his solicitor informs him of the mess that Lily has gotten into, he grumpily heads down to London in order to marry her off and rid himself of the burden of her.
Alec is shocked to discover that Lily is a beautiful, spirited woman. Their mutual attraction is immediate even though they bicker a little at first. Lily wants to marry eventually for love and not be forced into a union to protect herself from scandal. Alec simply wants her wed off as soon as possible, and he wastes no time in trying to set her up with suitable bachelors. However, Alec’s plan is hindered by both of them falling all over each other. There is also a bit of a side plot with attempts to buy and/or steal the painting from the artist in order to save Lily’s reputation.
***SPOILERS***It doesn’t take long for Lily and Alec to give in to their base desires and hook up, but Alec’s insecurity keeps them apart. We find out in the end that he basically prostituted himself out back when he was in school after his father cut his purse strings. Alec is so ashamed of his past actions that he does not believe himself worthy of Lily.
And this is where the book went from entertaining to frustrating. Lily and Alec would give in to temptation and hook up in some manner. Then Alec would immediately decide that he is not good enough for Lily and tell her it’s impossible. Then it would happen again. The reader doesn’t find out until near the end of the book why Alec is being such an ass, and then the problem almost immediately disappears. Does Alec realize how much pain he is causing Lily with his constant dismissals? If he were really in love, would he put her through all that? Does he not realize that marrying a Duke, a Duke that she loves is the best possible outcome for her? Even if the horror of his past were a good reason to keep them apart, I don’t think MacLean flushed out the idea enough to make it convincing.
MacLean stated at the end of her novel that she likes to get ideas from today’s headlines, and I appreciate her intent. Lily was a young woman who unfortunately decided to trust the wrong person, but society heaped all their scorn and blame on her and none on the artist that cruelly betrayed her. Similarly, today’s celebrities (mostly women), whom have had their privacy invaded and nude photos shared, have to deal with all kinds of judgment when the focus should be on the ones illegally sharing and looking at private photos. Anyway, there were some very fun scenes and I liked the intent of this book. However, I couldn’t love it because I was frustrated by Alec’s stupid excuse for keeping them apart.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.