At the age of eighteen, on the night of her come-out ball, Lady Isabella Scranton was swept off her feet by the dashing and notorious rake, Lord Mac Mackenzie. The two eloped that very night causing a scandal that rocked society. For three years, they shared a passionate but tempestuous marriage marked by Mac's frequent disappearances for long stretches of time, leaving Isabella alone. Eventually it led to her obtaining a legal separation, which scandalized the ton once again. Although she still cares about him, Isabella has kept her distance ever since, but when she discovers that some of Mac's artwork has been forged, she knows she had to tell him. However, she didn't expect him to show up on her doorstep soon after with nowhere else to go after a house fire or that she would once again become his muse, leading to a rekindling of the passion they once share.
Roland "Mac" Makenzie crashed Isabella's come-out ball on a wager with his friends, but instantly knew he wanted her in his bed. Still harboring some gentlemanly sensibilities, he knew he couldn't have her unless he married her, so they eloped on a lark. But what started as lust quickly grew into the flame of a passionate love. However, a turbulent childhood marked by emotional abuse, along with his artistic temperament, drove Mac to drink too much, and in the end, he hurt Isabella deeply by leaving her alone during a particularly tragic moment. He knows he has much to atone for to win her back, but there's nothing he wants more in the world. When she comes with the news of his forged artwork, Mac couldn't care less about the paintings, only that it might keep him close to his wife. As it turns out, though, the forger is a far more dangerous person than he would have imagined. Just as he and Isabella are starting to make headway on reconciling, it may be snatched away in the cruelest way by a madman bent on stealing Mac's entire life.
Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage is the second book (publication order) in Jennifer Ashley's Mackenzies & McBrides series. Each one of the four brothers who make up the core foundation of the series is a tortured genius. In this one we have artist and second youngest brother, Roland "Mac" Mackenzie. He and his wife, Isabella, eloped on the night of her come-out ball and married on a lark, but Mac's artistic temperament and alcoholism, along with a tragic miscarriage tore them apart, leading to a legal separation. The couple have seen little of each other over the past three years, but Mac is still madly in love with Isabella and has been working on himself in hopes of one day winning her back. When Isabella discovers forged paintings that were created by someone claiming to be Mac, it brings them back into each other's company. Then Mac's house mysteriously catches fire, so he takes up residence with her, which gives him new opportunities to press his case and prove that he can truly be the husband she deserves. But when the forger/arsonist ups his game, attacking Isabella in the park, Mac will stop at nothing to catch the criminal madman even if it costs him his life.
Mac is a genius artist, but one who is his own worst critic. He has little use for the art world, never seeking their accolades for his work and he never sells his paintings. He only gives them away to family and friends. Before marrying Isabella, he had a notorious reputation as a rake, drinking and womanizing with his wastrel friends. In fact, it was on a wager with those friends that he crashed Isabella's come-out ball to dance with the lovely debutante. He immediately knew he wanted her in his bed, but still having some gentlemanly sense, he married her. In the beginning, the marriage was wonderfully passionate and he soon fell head-over-heels for her. But after growing up with an abusive father who forbade him from creating art, Mac was unsurprisingly dysfunctional. He would often leave home with no notice, haring off to the continent, leaving Isabella home alone. He justified it by thinking that she needed time away from his temperamental nature, which often caused rows between them. But when Isabella sent him a letter asking for a separation, Mac knew he'd messed up royally. He's worked hard to overcome his alcoholism, lost most of his friends in the process, and hasn't really been able to paint anything decent since, but he believes it will be worth it if Isabella finds it in her heart to take him back. When she comes to inform him of the art forger, he doesn't really care much about that, only that it might get him close to her again. They soon start to rediscover their lost passion, particularly when she agrees to pose nude for him to help him win another bet with his friends. But fully regaining her trust and avoiding death at the hands of a madman may prove challenging. Mac is a man who is a genius at what he does, but he doesn't really care much about what other people think of him. He's always been part of a scandalous family, so society's opinions mean little to him. I admired him for working so hard to become a better man for Isabella, and I had no doubt that he was a changed man. He's not perfect, but he does now recognize and own his faults. I also loved that he'd remained celibate throughout their separation, not wanting anyone but Isabella in his bed.
Isabella was just eighteen when Mac swept her away with his charm at her come-out ball. She's a strong, independent-minded woman who never cared for any of the staid men her father insisted she choose from to marry. Mac was just the kind of man she wanted, so she was happy to elope with him. However, it did cause a rift with her family and her father forbade her to see any of them afterward, including her beloved younger sister. Still, she held her head high and loved Mac to distraction, but as he became more and more unpredictable, she began to become disillusioned. Then came the miscarriage while Mac was off on one of his benders, which left her feeling all alone. At that point, even though she still loved him, Isabella knew she could no longer be with him and asked for a separation and she's mostly kept to herself since. She's always appreciated Mac's art, though, so when she sees the forged painting, she knows she has to let him know. At first, he seems unconcerned, but when someone sets his house on fire, he shows up on her doorstep, asking for a place to stay. She reluctantly lets him in, and soon the heat begins to rise between them again. When she discovers that she's become the muse that has helped him revive his artistic ability, she offers to pose nude to help him win the bet, which stokes the fire even more. But it will take time and patience for Mac to fully win her back. Isabella is a strong woman who knows her mind and doesn't hesitate to let Mac know when he's getting too high-handed. At the same time, she loves and cares for Mac deeply and always has. Even though trust takes some time to rebuild, she's just as eager as he is to rekindle their passion.
The Mackenzies & McBrides have become a long-running series that is apparently still in progress, so there are several common characters that show up in supporting roles. Of course, Ian and Beth (The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie) are probably the most prominent, still madly in love and eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child. Ian gives Mac some sage advice in his usual blunt way. Mac's second oldest brother, Cam, shows up a few times, as does Isabella's old school chum, Ainsley, who helps her reconnect with her sister. These two shared an odd moment where something definitely passed between them without words. They become the hero and heroine of the next book, The Many Sins of Lord Cameron. Mac's oldest brother, Hart, (The Duke's Perfect Wife) showed up a couple of times, too. Inspector Fellows helps Mac with the investigation into the forger/arsonist. He will be paired with Isabella's sister, Louisa, in the novella, The Untamed Mackenzie. Cam's teenage son, Daniel, comes looking for refuge from his father at Isabella's house. He'll become the hero of Book #6, The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie. There are also several between the books novellas that will reunite many of these characters.
Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage was another good read in this series. I didn't love it quite as much as the first book, but I did enjoy it very much. The only thing that really dropped the half star for me was that the story is a little slow in a couple of places. With Mac and Isabella already being married when the story opens, it sets up a little different dynamic from most romances. In a typical romance, readers get to follow along as the couple meet and fall in love with each other. Here, Mac and Isabella are already in love, and that love had never died even though it's taken quite a beating. So it's all about how these two people who already care for one another find their way back to the passion they once shared and how Isabella grows to trust Mac again after all they've been through. The track of the romance might have been different, but it was no less sweet to watch them reconcile. Their love scenes are very steamy and showed just how much they still care for each other. The mystery is a little more in the background with events unfolding slowly as the villain keeps disappearing only to reappear, doing something even crazier than the last time, until there's finally resolution. I loved seeing all the other characters, too, especially Ian. The energy between the four core Mackenzie brothers is compelling and leaves me eager to read more of their stories soon and excited to see them all find their HEAs and grow their families.
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