by Karen Ranney, historical (2009)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 978-0061771759
Karen Ranney's Sold To A Laird has a pretty horrible and inaccurate, if eye-catching, title but the premise is a very intriguing one. Imagine, if you will, a total nobody of a fellow who finds himself suddenly married to the daughter of a Duke. She's used to being in charge of a large house - something she is raised to do - so in this case we have a pretty unusual reversal of roles. It is the heroine who plays the more dominant role in running the household while the hero stays in the background conducting his research. Interesting, isn't it?
There's more to the story, of course. Mr Douglas Eston, a former street orphan who has made himself a tidy fortune through trade and research, enters a partnership with the Duke of Herridge. Recently, he has discovered the process of creating artificial diamonds. Naturally, our scientist-cum-entrepreneur needs a sponsor. Herridge sees Douglas's research as the perfect opportunity to revive his fortune, so he is happy to sponsor Douglas's research.
When the story opens, our heroine, Sarah Baines, interrupts her father's meeting with Douglas to confront Herridge on his plan to send Sarah's dying mother to Scotland. Sarah's mother is currently in a coma, and Sarah knows that the woman would not survive the trip to Scotland. Sarah wants her mother to remain in Chavensworth, the sanctuary where both mother and daughter found solace from the attentions of the cruel Herridge. While she knows that her father is a cruel man, even she is taken aback by Herridge's retaliation to her interruption. Herridge on the spot offers Sarah to Douglas as his bride so that Douglas can remove her from Herridge's presence and Douglas agrees to this. Just like that, Sarah finds herself with a husband.
Douglas knows that there is nothing personal in business, and a marriage with Sarah certainly comes with plenty of benefits. But more than that, he is struck by Sarah's beauty the moment she interrupts his meeting with her father, and when he watches and listens as she tries to stand up against her father for the sake of her mother, he is captivated by her show of passion and loyalty to the people she cares for. By marrying her, he hopes that he can protect her from her father's cruelty. Of course, he won't have any difficulties performing any additional duties that comes with being a husband to Lady Sarah Baines.
Sold To A Laird isn't a beautiful love story as much as it is a beautiful story of what it feels to be loved. Douglas is a wonderful antidote for the ordeals Sarah goes through in this story, and trust me, she is placed in a truly heartbreaking position here as she is caught between a dying mother and a cruel father, both of whom are wearing her down slowly but surely. She tries to be strong for her mother and the people of Chavensworth, and indeed, she succeeds pretty well in running the place and earning the locals' affection and loyalty despite the meager resources she has at her hands (her father drains nearly all the profits from the productive Chavensworth land). But eventually even she has to break, and when she does, Douglas is there to help her piece together her life all over again.
This story is a very bittersweet read as there are scenes that tear me into pieces just as there are some truly tender and poignant scenes that make me simultaneously tear up and smile. Both the hero and the heroine are well-developed and memorable in their own ways, and Ms Ranney manages to show me just how good a match they are. Despite the difference in their social status, both characters are lonely and hurting. Douglas has more experience with dealing with heartbreak and losses in life, and his experiences allow him to say and do the right things to help Sarah here. He is perfect without coming off like a one-dimensional cardboard character here - he says the right things without sounding like a greeting card and he gives Sarah just the right amount of distance without hovering too close or becoming too distant. Usually in romance novels we have a maternal and understanding heroine nurturing a woobie hero back to the light, but here it is the hero who offers the heroine a shoulder to cry on and a solid emotional anchor for her to get her act back together.
And it's a wonderful vicarious read as a result. Douglas is such a wonderful shrink-lover-husband hero that I'm sure I would make a fortune if I can somehow bottle up Douglas's mojo and sell it in supermarkets everywhere. Every woman deserves to be pampered, coddled, and nurtured the way Douglas cherishes Sarah here, I tell you.
It's not just love and understanding here. Sarah is raised to be a "proper" daughter of an Earl, so she believes that "naughty" desires are something only a lowborn woman would feel. Douglas will change her mind about this, naturally, and Sarah's sexual awakening behind closed doors makes for some very sensual read.
However, while I would love to give this book a keeper grade, the last few chapters of this book are pretty disappointing compared to the rest of the book up to that point. I don't want to spoil anything, so let me just say that there are some developments that have me scratching my head. These chapters exhibit a darkly humorous tone that feel very different from the more sober tone of the previous chapters, resulting in a disjointed kind of pay-off.
Still, Sold To A Laird makes for some lovely vicarious reading while it lasts.
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