79) Jennifer Ashley — The Duke’s Perfect Wife
Fourth and final book in the Highland Pleasures quartet of romance novels about four brothers who are Scottish Lords in Victorian Britain. This book is about Hart MacKenzie, oldest of the brothers, and head of the family since their father’s death. Their father was a brutal monster, whose ill-treatment of his family has damaged all four men. Hart has done much and sacrificed much to protect himself and his brothers, and that as much as the ill treatment has had its effect on him. There are other losses besides, including losing his wife and child to death.
And before that there was Eleanor Ramsey, his first fiancee, who broke off their engagement when she discovered what it was he did to deal with his demons. Now Eleanor is back in his life, with the intention of protecting him from a potential scandal involving nude photographs taken of him long ago.
Hart still loves her, and has no intention of letting her go this time. But holding Eleanor Ramsey will take more than even Hart Mackenzie’s skill at seduction.
It’s a good book, and does an excellent job in rounding off the story arc of the family as a whole. But it doesn’t quite make good on hints dropped in earlier books about the darker strands of Hart’s personality. There were things set up which suggested that Hart had been involved in some fairly heavy BDSM, which may or may not have been consensual, but which contributed to his reputation as a man who could use his social position and wealth to get away with a great deal. As it turns out, Hart has good reason for thinking of himself as having the same capacity for viciousness and violence as his father did, but it’s to do with trying to protect his family. The BDSM isn’t a red herring, but it’s not what we were led to believe in the earlier books. I thought it worked, in part because I eventually felt Ashley may have been making a deliberate point about society’s assumptions about consensual BDSM, but I can see why other readers felt that it was bottling out. There’s fannish gossip about backtracking due to publisher pressure — if true, then I think Ashley did a good job in retconning the setup from earlier in the series.