Halfway through I pulled out my NOOK and bought it. I was really enjoying the story and Jennifer Ashley deserves the sale. Truly. Ian and Beth are both unconventional romance characters - Ian with his "madness" and Beth having risen from the gutters of London to become a weathly, respectable widow. As the novel opens, Ian is preparing to buy a rare porcelain bowl from Lyndon Mather, Beth's fiancee. Ian collects the bowls and while he is the expert, Mather is a poseur, claiming to need the blunt from the sale to impress his fiancee, Beth. Ian, on meeting Beth, passes her a note informing her that Mather isn't all that he seems...and that he would be willing to marry Beth to keep her from the scandal of breaking an engagement. It seems like a strange set-up but it works because Ashley renders Ian's abrupt view of the world so well. Through Ian's and Beth's story we meet the other members of the Mackenzie family - the rough-and-tumble brothers who weathered life with their abusive father and came out the other end scarred but still standing - and they're all rather loveable, even Hart-the-Duke who isn't drawn quite as well as the others. There are some standard tropes used - Ian is about as big and smoking hot as any romance hero and there some odd language in the bedroom scenes ("swirled" is not a word I would associate favorably with sensuality) - but the overall book is a great read.
Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage, which follows the next eldest brother, the artist Mac, and his wife Isabella (the series takes a different timeline in that it starts with the youngest, Ian, and moves up the brothers by age). Mac and Isabella are also different characters - for one, they're already married, and two, Isabella walked out on Mac because he spent more time drinking than anything else. Since then Mac has sobered and stayed clean but he has run into a problem: his paintings are now terrible. Their reconcilliation begins when Isabella suspects that someone is forging Mac Mackenzie paintings using a yellow paint color created by Mac himself. Both characters carry a lot of emotional baggage - Isabella's family cut her off when she eloped with Mac at her come-out ball, they lost their first baby to a miscarriage - and unpacking and dealing with all of it makes a satisfying story. I felt like the "mystery" was tacked on and complicated but was dealt with quickly. This book is also very sultry - Mac must paint a series of nudes to win a wager, Isabella says she will model for him to help "the muse"....you do the math. Very hot.
The Many Sins of Lord Cameron and snarfed it right down. This may be my favorite of the series so far. I love Ainsley, she is such a fun character (we met her briefly in Isabella's book), lock-picking hairpins and all. Cameron may be the most emotionally damaged of the brothers - his first wife was an awful trollop, beat him with a poker while he slept, and then tried to kill him and their infant son, Daniel (who is an amusing, and well-drawn, almost-college student in this book), before killing herself. Cam and Ainsley have unfinished business from years ago when he caught her sneaking around in his rooms. What I love most about this book is that there isn't any overarching mystery, neither of the main characters are in danger. It's just a love story where two people come to love and trust each other (and there's a bit about horses and Roma, too). The only drawback came when Ashley decided to include a partial chapter from Eleanor's perspective (she's Ainsley's friend and Hart's ex-fiancee) just to get a meet-cute with her and Hart to set up the next book, The Duke's Perfect Wife, due out in April.
But I'm really interested in that one, so I'll forgive the inclusion.