Karen Ranney’s novel of desertion and deception is set in the rather stormy hills of Scotland, and proves to be quite a ride. After being married for one week, Charlotte, the new Countess of Marne, discovers her husband, The Earl of Marne, has disappeared without so much a note. His rakish ways lead Charlotte to believe he has taken a maid and left for good, and with her sizable dowry. Not wanting to stay in England a laughingstock, she travels with her formidable parents to the little known castle of her estranged husband, Balfurin. Determined to make a life for herself, she stays on at Balfurin, a nearly crumbling castle, and opens a school for gentlewomen.
Out of no where comes Dixon Robert MacKinnon, the tall, blue-eyed cousin of the estranged husband and Earl. With his similarities to the missing Lord, Dixon is mistaken for his cousin by everyone, including the Countess! Dixon is an importer of goods and has come home from the orient, a very wealthy and troubled man. His yearning to be at home, where people know him vanishes when they mistake him for the Earl. Instead of correcting them, he plays along with the ruse, despite the guilt and annoyance it brings him. He is intrigued by his cousin’s wife too much to correct her mistake.
Under the impression that her husband has returned, Charlotte sets about trying to get him to leave so she can divorce him and be rid of him. The anger she feels at being abandoned five years ago is still fresh in her mind, and she can’t fathom why her husband would return, if he didn’t want money. Over time she notices a difference in his character, and his physical appearance, but has no idea that it is not her husband that she is falling in love with. She believes he has changed his ways and wants to make amends, and eventually falls under his spell.
But there is mystery at Balfurin, riddles and treasure are to be contemplated as well as love. The oldest living servant is full of knowledge and knows that truth about what has happened to the missing Laird of Balfurin, but will not speak of it, choosing to only give Dixon clues to the treasure instead. Several trips out to the first Balfurin, now a crumbling ruin, yield nothing, so the mystery deepens, until one day all is revealed.
This is well written story with a lot of humorous twists and turns. There is deception, mystery and an intense physical attraction between the two main characters. A funny addition to this story, although perhaps not necessary is the Edification society, a group of women intent on educating married females the joys of the marriage bed, with visual aids. You can feel Charlotte’s embarrassment when they try to educate her! There is only one love scene in this book (well, almost another one, but they don’t get that far!) but it is very intense.
The characters are well written and thought out, and you can feel their emotions through the descriptive writing. Dixon is easy to fall for, as you almost begin to feel sorry for him and his passion for Charlotte. The Countess is rather harsh at first, but she becomes a softer character as the book goes on. I felt anger for Charlotte at her abandonment, and pity mixed with respect for her as she struggles to build Balfurin into a successful school.
This was a new author for me, and I enjoyed her style immensely, and plan to read other books she has written. I hope this little review has prompted you to pick up this book! I will be collecting her others soon!