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The impression I've gotten of Hart as I read about him through his younger brothers' stories, is, honestly, not a very good one. I saw a man who was driven and passionate, but whose intensity and energy were focused on two things: becoming Prime Minister and managing his brothers' lives. What was curious, though, is that, despite Hart's very controlling ways, his brothers all still have a deep respect and love for him -- even Eleanor Ramsay, "the one that got away," is very kind when she talks about Hart. I had to wonder what it was they saw in Hart. I had to wonder what it was they loved about Hart.
Hart Mackenzie is on the brink of achieving his goal of becoming Prime Minister, but the last step is also the one fraught with the most dangers. When Eleanor Ramsay suddenly reappears in his life and reveals that someone has been sending her photographs of Hart -- naked photographs of Hart, taken when he was a much younger man by his much older (and now dead) mistress. Despite their "estrangement," Eleanor knows what being prime minister means to Hart and so she takes it upon herself to discover who is sending the photos.
While it is a race to secure Hart's future, it is also a journey back to Hart's past, and it all seems to be tied to the house at High Holborn, to Hart's mistress, Mrs. Palmer, and to the reason why Eleanor left Hart in the first place. It's a place and time that Hart is unwilling to return to, but he must, if he has to have any chance of winning back Eleanor.
Hart's hand clenched around his glass. "El, you are not going to that house."
"But it's just a house," she said. "Nothing wrong with it now, and it might hold a vital clue."
"You know good and well that it's not just a house." The anger climbed. "And stop giving me that innocent look. You're not innocent at all. I know you."
"Yes, I am afraid you know me a bit too well. Makes talking to you dashed difficult sometimes."
Eleanor had a little smile on her face, making a joke of it, and Hart couldn't breathe. She always did this, walked into a room and took the air out of it.
- Chapter 3
I loved, loved, loved Eleanor Ramsay. She's an impoverished Scottish earl's daughter, about the marry the wealthy heir to a powerful title, and she had the courage and integrity to walk away from it all -- and then have the same courage to return and help Hart. She's just so, so amazing -- unaffected by Hart's control and importance, but affected by him at his most vulnerable and helpless. She is a woman you can count on to stand by your side at your most darkest and most despairing. I love her.
But the Hart she faced today was a different man from the one she'd been engaged to, and that worried her. The Hart who'd laughed so readily, who'd been animated and excited by life -- was gone. In his place was a man even harder and more driven than before. He'd seen too much tragedy, too much death, too much loss. Gossip and newspapers had put it about that Hart had been relieved to be rid of Lady Sarah, his wife, but Eleanor knew differently. The bleak light now in Hart's eyes came from grief.
- Chapter 2
One realises that Hart isn't perfect and he isn't as infallible as the world thinks him to be -- at the heart of Hart is a man who is still reacting to his father's abuse and who believes he is responsible for holding the world together. Hart and Eleanor's courtship story doesn't read like a typical courtship -- but, then, Hart and Eleanor aren't your typical hero and heroine either. A lot of their story is a revisiting of their history -- it's painful, but necessary. Hart, especially, needed to reveal that part of himself that he'd been hiding from Eleanor. It's also a story about their present circumstance: Eleanor and Hart are very different people now, and have suffered through many heartbreaks (Hart, in particular).
He should have refused to let her go, should have run off with her that very afternoon, bound her to him forever. He'd made mistake after mistake with her. But he'd been young, angry, proud, and ... embarrassed. The lofty Hart Mackenzie, certain he could do whatever he pleased, had learned differently with Eleanor. He let his voice soften. "Tell me how you are, El."
- Chapter 1
I get the sense that Jennifer Ashley is "ending" the four Mackenzie brothers' stories, and she provides such a wonderful and heartfelt closure to their story. Hart, Ian, Cam and Mac all come together and reveal (to the readers) what has kept their family together through the ups and downs. It's amazing how the author was able to portray this family with all its flaws and dysfunction, but not letting them wallow in it. Instead, the Mackenzies have always looked up and moved forward.
Eleanor may be known as "the one that got away," but she also holds the distinction of being "the one that came back" -- not in regret or remorse over things that she had lost and what could've been, but in hope of the promise of what would be. A intrepid and dauntless heroine, a noble and devoted hero (I think Hart would rankle at this description ^_^) -- this story is a "win" in my book. ^_^
The Duke's Perfect Wife is Book 4 in Jennifer Ashley's Highland Pleasures (The Mackenzies/McBrides) series. To find out more about Jennifer Ashley and her books, click below: