Narrated by Derek Perkins
This second book in Julia London’s Highland Grooms series, Sinful Scottish Laird, is an enjoyable, character-driven romance that takes place over thirty years after the events of Wild Wicked Scot, and in which the hero is the eldest son of Laird Arran Mackenzie and his English wife, Margot. Cailean Mackenzie spends most of his time at his own estate of Arrandale, working on the house he is building; and when he’s not doing that, he and his younger brother, Aulay, are braving the excise men and crossing the sea to France in order to bring back cargoes of the essential goods that shortages and high rates of taxation have put beyond the reach of the ordinary Scot – as well as the wine and brandy they can sell at a profit.
Out riding with a group of his men one day, Cailean comes across a broken-down carriage carrying an assortment of Englishmen and women, most of whom, it seems, are terrified and would quite happily shoot him. Only one person among them doesn’t appear to share that fear, a lovely woman that Cailean learns is Lady Chatwick, on her way to visit the lodge at Auchanard which is part of her young son’s inheritance. Cailean has long sworn off romantic entanglements – a youthful love affair gone wrong decided him that marriage wasn’t for him and he’s content with his solitary life – but there’s something about the way the woman seems quite oblivious to the fears of those around her and the way she looks at him that Cailean finds intriguing – against his better judgement.
Daisy Bristol, Viscountess Chatwick, has been a widow for over two years, and is still furious that her late husband tied up their son’s inheritance in such a way that Daisy will be forced to remarry within three years of his death, or forfeit the boy’s fortune. With the three years almost up, she has become the target of every fortune hunter in London, so in a desperate attempt to avoid them, Daisy decides to head to the Scottish Highlands to visit a very remote part of her son’s estate. She also hopes it will buy her the time she needs to rekindle her youthful romance with Robert Spivey, a naval officer that her parents deemed not worthy of her and whom she was forced to give up in order to marry Viscount Chatwick. Daisy has recently had a letter from Captain Spivey announcing his return to England, in which he clearly indicates his wish that they might meet again. Daisy is pinning her hopes on his offering for her on his return – even though she can’t dispel her often rather salacious thoughts about the big, handsome, auburn-haired Scotsman with piercing blue eyes who lives on the neighbouring estate.
Daisy and Cailean encounter each other frequently over the ensuing days and weeks, and I enjoyed the way their relationship begins as something of a reversal of the normal male/female roles, with Daisy employing gently flirtatious teasing in the face of Cailean’s gruff and sometimes outright hostility. I liked that she makes no secret of her attraction to him; and although he is adamant at first that he isn’t interested in her or her attempts to ‘trifle’ with him, he gradually unbends and starts to flirt back, revealing himself to be a man capable of considerable warmth and charm in spite of his outwardly impassive demeanour. When he sees the love Daisy clearly has for Auchanard, and the effort she is making to transform the rather neglected lodge into a home, Cailean realises she is not the spoiled society lady he had expected her to be and soon finds himself admiring and respecting her. A genuine friendship develops between them, although the simmering undercurrent of mutual attraction is never far away – but Cailean is a Highlander born and bred, and Daisy’s future lies in England with her son, who holds an English title and needs to live and grow up there in order to make the sorts of lifelong connections befitting someone of his station. But the ages old animosity between the Scots and the English isn’t the only thing that stands in the way of their being together; the unexpected arrival at Auchenard of Robert Spivey who, it turns out, has long been attempting to apprehend a certain group of Scottish smugglers, looks set to threaten Cailean’s very life as well as throw into sharp contrast Cailean’s dreams of making a life with Daisy with the truth of what her future must be.
The central conflict in the story is ever present in the background, but is never allowed to overwhelm the development of the central relationship, which Ms. London does very well. Cailean’s initial, gruff responses to Daisy’s flirting are amusing and quite endearing because it’s obvious the man is already entirely smitten, and having the heroine be the one to be consumed by lustful thoughts of the hero makes a refreshing change. Daisy is lively, clever and sophisticated, but has never felt anything like the force of the physical attraction she feels for Cailean. With the problem of her need in to remarry in order to preserve her son’s inheritance lying between them, theirs is a bittersweet romance with just the right amount of angst to engage the listener’s sympathies and keep us guessing as to how the author is going to allow this clearly meant-to-be-together couple to surmount their difficulties and achieve their HEA. Unfortunately, however, this is where the storytelling falters somewhat, because those difficulties are overcome very easily; so easily, in fact, that the dénouement is anticlimactic and I found myself asking why the author had made so much of the obstacles she had thrown into the path of true love only to conveniently handwave them away later.
But with that said, the romance between Daisy and Cailean is well-written and imbued with warmth, charm and sensuality. It’s definitely worth experiencing and in audio the listener is afforded the added benefit of the superb narration delivered by Derek Perkins. In fact, I can’t think of any other narrators who would be capable of performing this story so well; his velvety baritone is a treat for the ears and he really doesn’t put a foot wrong throughout, voicing every character appropriately and differentiating between them skilfully and effectively. In our recent interview, Mr. Perkins spoke about his approach to portraying the heroines in his narrations, and the importance of cadence and speech patterns as opposed to pitch in successfully realising a female character. I was reminded of those comments as I listened to his interpretation of Daisy; her voice isn’t pitched especially high, yet she’s clearly female, with a slight softening of tone and what I can only describe as a definitely feminine inflection to her speech. For Cailean, he adopts an attractive Scottish lilt father than a full-on brogue, an appropriate choice given that Cailean’s mother is English and we’re told that “his speech sounded as though it was tinged with a bit of an English accent.” Later in the story, the contrast between Cailean’s slightly accented tenor and Spivey’s lower pitched, harsher tone is a pointed one, and an excellent way of showing the differences between the two men in thought and attitude as well as in their outward speech and manner.
While the ending is a bit weak – hence the B grade for content – I enjoyed listening to Sinful Scottish Laird and am happy to recommend it. The romance is charming, the central characters are engaging and Derek Perkins further cements his position as one of the best narrators of historical romance around.
Book Content: B
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: None
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Harlequin Audio
Sinful Scottish Laird was provided to AudioGals by Harlequin Audio for a review.