Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a historical romance from Maddison Michaels. THE SINFUL SCOT is the 3rd novel in her Saints and Scoundrels series. Trigger warning, this story features a battered heroine, and there are descriptions of beatings, injuries, and murder, though we do not see that on the page.
About the book:
Constance Campbell, the Duchess of Kilmaine, once believed that all she needed in life was a duke. But everything unraveled when she realized her perfect husband was a perfect monster. Now broken beyond repair, she hides her misery behind a perfect Society mask…even from her childhood friend, Alec.
Dr. Alec McGuiness reluctantly finds himself back in Scotland, and checking up on the only woman to ever get under his skin, Connie. After she spurned him many years ago, he knows his humble life as a doctor could never be enough for her. But when the Duke of Kilmaine is murdered in cold blood, with Connie sleeping right next to him in bed, Alec knows he must protect Connie at all costs from those who would frame her for the duke’s murder.
Now on the run, Connie feels a freedom she only ever dreamed about before, and an unexpected attraction to the man who is keeping her safe. But even if they can win her freedom and clear her name, could she ever open her heart up to someone again?
How about a little taste?
Taking a deep breath, she turned around, only to be caught in Alec’s penetrating gaze. She’d forgotten how handsome he was. A strange combination of rugged athleticism mixed with the air of a scholar. But there was also a steadiness to him, a gentle strength, that Connie felt drawn to. This was a man who would have no need to take out his anger on anyone weaker than he. She’d never met a more honorable or honest man.
She cringed with the thought of how badly she’d once treated him. Often ignoring him at assemblies and the like, simply because he hadn’t fawned over her like the other men had.
She’d been a fool.
“Sophie sent you, then?” was all Connie could think to say. She must sound like an imbecile.
“She asked me to check on you.” He paused, staring steadily at her. “So how are you, Lady Connie?”
He was still calling her by her maiden title, and there was something so familiar about him doing so, it reminded her of a time long ago. A time she wished she could escape back to.
Unable to withstand his close scrutiny, she strode over to the hearth and closed her eyes for a second, fighting the urge to cry again. She’d thought her tears from earlier were well and truly dried up.
It would be so easy to tell Alec what had been happening. He would believe her. Probably try to save her, too. But what could he do, when up against the powerful Duke of Kilmaine, whose word was law in these parts? And though she knew Alec could defend himself in a fight, Duncan never fought fairly. Her husband had enough servants and guards around the estate to ensure that Alec would be outnumbered.
No. She couldn’t risk getting him hurt. She’d never forgive herself if he did.
Filling her lungs with a hearty breath, she turned back to face him, and once again, she plastered a serene smile on her face. “Everything is fine. Absolutely fine, in fact.”
But Alec didn’t smile back. Instead he frowned. “Don’t lie to me, Connie.” He strode across to her, until she found herself staring at the crisp white cravat covering his neck.
She gasped softly as his hand gently tilted her chin upward, until her eyes met his. Warring with the frisson of fear from having a man touch her was a giddy sensation fluttering in her stomach. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone had touched her with such tenderness. If ever, actually.
“What’s going on? And I’ll have the truth this time, please.” Alec’s voice was firm, but she could hear the concern in it. It had been so long since she’d felt that anyone cared.
“As I said before, everything is fine, Doctor McGuiness.” She carefully reached up and very deliberately pushed his hand away from under her chin. “And you take too many liberties touching me and calling me by my first name. I am a duchess now. Or have you forgotten?” Perhaps if she sounded condescending, as she’d often done in the past with him, he’d believe her, and go.
“Aye. I’m well aware of that fact.” He stepped back and bowed stiffly. “Forgive me, your grace.”
There was contempt in his voice, and Connie felt her heart sink. He would forever remember her as being a coldhearted shrew, she was sure of that. And though a part of her hated knowing he would, at least he’d be safe.
“You can tell Sophie that all is well.” She was glad her voice sounded steady, when inside she felt like she was shattering into tiny pieces. “Now if you will excuse me, I have duties to attend to.” She inclined her head at him before sweeping past him toward the door.
She extended her hand toward the doorknob when, from behind her, Alec reached over her shoulder and pressed his palm against the wood. Preventing her from opening it and leaving.
“You’re not going anywhere, duchess. At least not until you tell me what the devil is going on.”
Constance Campbell, the Duchess of Kilmane, is in mortal danger. Married to a serial batterer who is above the law seemed to be the worst of her problems–but now she’s been set up as his murderer. Dr. Alec McGuinness is a long-time but estranged friend of Connie’s who’s come to check on her welfare and ends up rescuing her from either an asylum or the gallows.
Connie’s brother-in-law thinks she’s guilty, and aims to have her put into an asylum–if only to save her from death. Duncan knew his brother was battering Connie, and knows he’d killed several other women–including his first wife–with his physical abuse. Connie’s sure the only way to save her life is to prove someone else killed her husband, and Alec agrees to assist her investigation. Instead of heading for London where Connie’s brother could protect her from arrest, they travel immediately to Inverness, where they have a chance of finding the truth about the murder of the Duke of Kilmane–even as the bodies pile up around them.
Connie’s a sheltered woman who’s only experience with men was with an abuser. Her friendship with Alec makes him less intimidating, to the point she isn’t flinching when he reaches to offer her aid. As the tension ramps, so does an unwanted attraction. Connie never wants to marry again. As a widow, she can live a less-complicated life on her own terms. If she falls for Alec, she would lose any autonomy she’d gained in this unlikely turn of events. Alec had a youthful fascination with Connie, but was put off by what seemed her gold-digging ways. As a contemporary of the time, he didn’t quite see that Connie needed to marry well, and was groomed to do so throughout her youth. Alec, the younger son of a Scots earl, he had been burned by a social-climbing woman in his early adulthood. Still, being with Connie now, sometimes posing as her husband to avoid suspicion, he can’t discount his renewed attraction. Still, he doesn’t want to get burned again, but he’s definitely losing his heart piece by piece.
For me, this story was REALLY complicated. I know it’s the third book in a series,and I could see the extension of at least one of the previous one, and the set up for the next one–which was a bit of a distraction to the main story. Also, wow, Connie’s husband was an unconscionable maniac–but there were people around his who were just as complicit because they covered his brutal crimes. The investigation lasts days, but the prose was so dense if felt far longer. I was also confused about the timeframe–because Alec and Connie had this history of youth, and they are only two-three years apart in age, yet Alec is now in his early thirties and Connie’s been married four-ish years? She would have been married far longer if the timeline was right.
There were a lot of misdirection, with figurative and literal dead ends. I was not expecting such a body count in my Regency romance, honestly. And, I didn’t understand why so many people even needed to die–or how they were all so overpowered in such grisly fashion. The romance is REALLY slow-burning, which made sense because of Connie’s history of abuse, but what slowed it more was repetition of the characters’ feelings about getting involved. They kept saying how they didn’t want to connect and didn’t give a lot of reasons for why, beyond the barest basic and expected answers. I also found the merry chases to be a bit much. There are so many avenues of investigation, I felt overwhelmed, and some of these experiences seemed out of the realm for a woman of the time. In all, the idiosyncrasies of the plot and the repetition impacted my enjoyment. The characters didn’t always jump off the page into reality for me, and I struggled to connect for that reason. It was an okay read, and I think fans of Regency/historical romance would probably like this one.
About the Author:
Indoctrinated into a world of dashing rogues and feisty heroines when she was a teenager, Maddison Michaels is a bestselling, award-winning Australian romance author, who loves to write sexy history with a dash of mystery! Her debut novel, THE DEVILISH DUKE, won the 2019 RWA Australia Historical Romance Book of the year. Maddison lives in Sydney with her gorgeous hubby and daughter, and always starts her day with a cup (or two) of liquid gold… coffee (just quietly, she’s addicted to the stuff)!