Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage (Highland Pleasures Series #2)

Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage -  Jennifer Ashley When I read the "teaser" chapter at the end of Book #1 "The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie", I was afraid... very, very afraid. Mac and Isabella are introduced to us in Book #1, but I wasn't at all sure I liked either of them. And I had a hard time imagining an entire book about the two of them.Boy, was I WRONG! When I had the chance to see and hear Isabella and Mac on their own, I realized that they are far from boring. IMO, Lady Isabella's initial visit to Mac in his studio is a ruse to re-enter his life in some "casual" way. It's been 3 years (almost 3.5) since they parted, and it's obvious that both are toying with the idea of some reconciliation. Or is it lust - having been married to each other and enjoying their "games"... and neither of them seeking a lover in the interim, they're both pretty hot for one another. It doesn't take much at all for the very proper Isabella to show us just how randy she can be. At tea time! With clotted cream!Parts of these books remind me of other series... like the newspaper tidbits at the beginning of each chapter are reminiscent of Julia Quinn's The Bridgerton series... and Hart reminds me a lot of Wulf (the Duke and eldest brother) in Mary Balogh's Bedwyn series.But none of those books dealt with a long separation between two hurting people who still love one another to distraction. They love each other, but can they live with each other? That's the question. Mac was dependent upon alcohol - that is his "madness". Or was, because Mac's been on the wagon for a very long time now. Liquor no longer lures him. IMO, Isabella's "madness" was her dependency on Mac, and his need to "think" for her - the way that he'd leave suddenly, simply because he thought it was best for her. Not that he'd ASK her, of course.We see two people who have had some time and some distance to figure out just who they really are. And while they're both still clinging to pain and secrets, and to the maddening idea that each of them is to BLAME or RESPONSIBLE in his or her own way for everything that went wrong between them... they do see the light. They do find their way back to one another. At first, it's through physical intimacy, which some might scoff at; but their sex life was obviously very important to Mac and Isabella -- it was their way of connecting beyond just the physical. It embodied trust and freedom and love, not just lust and desire. It was important for them to "sample" each other, and to discover that they still needed and wanted one another - and that they could still satiate one another - that their couplings were still intimate, trusting, loving, and satisfying. Then and only then can they both begin to step back and take a new look at the other, to see how the other has matured and changed. (In this way, they reminded me of Jamie and Claire from the Outlander series. While completely different people, Jamie & Claire's sexual intimacies are the cornerstone of their relationship - as necessary as breathing. And somewhere along the way, I started picturing Jamie painting in nothing but his kilt, boots, and a kerchief over his head - LOL! No, Mac and Jamie are NOT the same person. But I can see a lot of Jamie's loyalty and honor in Mac, which is a very good thing - great character traits.)Isabella sees it in the way that Mac treats her - listens to her. And then when little Aimee comes into their lives, she sees that he is able to focus on and take care of another human being. That Mac is able to put aside his other "madness" (painting) and allow someone else to be 1st in his life.Mac sees it when Isabella takes care of Mirabelle, Aimee's mother, and when she finally breaks over the miscarriage of the past. She finally trusts him enough to tell him exactly how she felt and how he maddened her by his actions. She showed him that she loved HIM and enjoyed his wild side, but that she needed someone to depend upon, too - someone who would be there when she needed him.The "mystery" of who is impersonating Mac and why does seem a bit contrived... but it moves the plot along and provides both Mac and Isabella with excuses to stay in each others' company, and it brings Aimee into their lives. It is a shame about Inspector Fellows, though. The poor man is relegated to a very background role. Although the "mystery" gives the author an excuse to involve him, too. I'd hoped to get to know him better. How is the relationship between Fellows and the Mackenzies now? Seems like it wouldn't be as easy as kiss-and-make-up, but you'd never know it from this book.Ian and Beth make more than one appearance, to my delight (and to other readers' delights, too, if the reviews here are to be believed)! Hart, Cam, and Daniel wander in and out, too. We get a glimpse of what Cam's book (#3) might be about when Cam and Ainsely encounter one another in Isabella's drawing room. (Ainsely is Isabella's schoolmate and chum.)Yes, I see a "pattern" forming with this series. But really, can't you see that in just about any series?I consider a book really good when it pulls me in and keeps me so ensnared that I don't want to put it down. And when I have to put it down for the ordinary living stuff, I can't wait to snatch it back up again to continue reading. And that's what this book did for me.Is it as good as the 1st book? Apples and oranges, my dear; no one can compete with Ian's story because it's so unique and is done so well. While I enjoyed his "visits" in this book, and one could argue that Ian is the true impetus behind Isabella and Mac's reunion, my focus wasn't on Ian. It was on Mac and Isabella. Which, to me, says that this is a successful book in its own right.Plenty of steam in this book, too. In some ways, "hotter" than Book #1, because these two are still husband and wife and have had 3 years of marriage to "play" and know the games that they both enjoy. Both seem to not only enjoy the "play", but they've got good imaginations. It's not quite so wham-bam in this book as it seemed in Book #1. There's more seduction involved... more chasing and courting. But that's Mac and not Ian. Which is good, 'cuz this is Mac's book.