Christina Blackburn is an antiquarian for the National Museum. She travels to Scotland to investigate a wall that has been uncovered when engineers are blasting for a road. Sir Aedan MacBride is the owner of the land, as well as the engineer in charge of building the road. He is under pressure in many ways; the Queen is coming to his home for a visit, and expects to use the road to arrive there. In addition, his father died and left a will stipulating that Aedan had to finish renovations on the house within a year or it would be turned over to the National Museum. The financial demands of the renovations are staggering, the road building has been halted because of the wall, and Aedan’s female cousins want to redo his whole house with plaid carpet and floral chintz drapes. Somehow, Aedan bears up under the weight of his obligations and remains pleasant.
Christina wants to prove her favorite uncle’s pet theory. According to Uncle Walt, King Arthur had ties to Scotland, and hid his gold somewhere in the hills. He was soundly criticized by his peers and retired in disgrace. His health has begun to fail, and Christina sees this as her opportunity to redeem her uncle’s reputation as a scholar. Her supervisor at the National Museum, Sir Edgar wants to marry her. She is the widow of Stephen Blackburn. He was an artist who painted her as the Sleeping Princess of Dundrennan when she was 17 years old. Just before his death, he sold the painting, breaking his promise to her. A scandal erupted because of the subject matter and the sensual style of the painting.
To her utter shock, Christina learns that Sir Aedan is the owner of the painting and has been for several years. Aedan recognizes her immediately and is strongly attracted to her. The attraction is mutual, but the MacBride family has a legendary curse. Any laird who marries for love soon loses his wife to death. Because Aedan cares for Christina, he rejects the very thought of loving her, much less marrying her.
Susan King has written the second in a trilogy of Scottish novels set in the Victorian era. The conflict of science and legends is fascinating and she utilizes a well-known fairy tale as a backdrop to the story. Christina comes from a family of well known artists and the tales about various relatives add depth to her character. Her writing is historically accurate, and she manages to bring charm to the notion of building a road in the wild Scottish Highlands. Aedan is a stressed man, yet remains kind, and focused on the needs of others. Christina grows from a woman fearful of her sensual nature into self-acceptance, and willingness to share herself with the man she loves.
I read this novel in one delicious gulp. I highly recommend Susan King’s books. Her writing stays with me long after the book is over. This series is a definite keeper, and I’m looking forward to the third book –KISSING THE COUNTESS.
Nancy Riggins-Hume, August 2003
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