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In truth, I haven't forgotten about the MacKenzies and the McBrides, but I needed to put down the series a few months ago so that I could read other authors. I have to say I missed them very much, and I'm glad to return to Jennifer Ashley's series and to read about Elliot McBride.
The story begins with Juliana jilted at the altar by her long-time fiance, and Elliot McBride stepping in to save her from further embarrassment. We discover that Elliot and Juliana have harboured secret feelings for each other for quite a while -- this, in itself, makes for an interesting and exciting romance, but Jennifer Ashley adds various shades of complications: Elliot suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after his year of imprisonment in India. When the darkness strikes him, it is debilitating, and Juliana needs to figure out how to help her husband.
There really isn't much focus on the falling-in-love aspect, because there was no question of it between Juliana and Elliot -- theirs is a story of returning to your first love, and discovering it was true love -- but, this is also a story about how love can overcome darkness. PTSD has been tackled in many ways in many different romance novels, and with good reason: it's an elusive, undefinable condition that manifests itself differently with each person. There's no pegging it down, and there's no cure-all. I thought Jennifer Ashley handled Elliot's situation in a sympathetic and tactful way -- which makes one in awe of Elliot's bravery in the face of his madness. All the characters in this story all display courage, compassion and understanding: Jennifer Ashley honors Elliot's caregivers: Mahindar and his family, whom Elliot rescued, and who are now "saving" him daily from his "madness", and there's Juliana, who had no idea what she was getting into, but isn't one to run away from a difficult situation.
Elliot's body was as solid as the foundations of this house. And yet, she sensed his fragility. He could crumble at the right touch to the right place, just like some of the walls in this old place. Juliana had to make sure that the touch never came.
- Chapter 10
The second complication is Archibald Stacy, Elliot's friend from India, who everyone believes is died (and some believe Elliot is responsible for his death). There are two threats to Elliot and Juliana: the first being the investigation launched by Mr. and Mrs. Dalrymple to show that Elliot was responsible for Stacy's death in India, and, second, that Archibald Stacy being alive, and stalking Elliot and Juliana. It's a tug-of-war between Elliot's past, and present -- and both fighting to shape his future. One will lead to Elliot's death (if found guilty of Stacy's death), and one to Elliot's salvation.
I can imagine how confused Juliana must have when she entered Elliot's life -- with the mix of Scottish and Indian cultures, then Elliot's condition, and then the problem Archibald Stacy's presence/absence posed to their lives. It's an experience similar to Alice's adventure through Wonderland, except Juliana's wasn't temporary and this one was real life. While the story focuses on Elliot and his journey towards recovery, Juliana also undergoes a subtle transformation: from someone who had set a conventional target for herself, she becomes a woman who stepped out of her comfort zone and into undiscovered frontier --
She'd been so secure in her engagement, rather smug that she was in no danger of being left on the shelf. Not only that, she'd wanted the stability of a normal life, something she'd fought for all her life.
- Chapter 1
The problem with Archibald Stacy is how complicated this complication presented. It's partly because Elliot refused to talk about India, and we only caught glimpses of it through the vague stories from Mahindar and Elliot. The clearest story came from Mr. and Mrs. Dalrymple, but they were presented as being of questionable morals and manners, so we weren't certain how much of their story to believe. Eventually, when the full story of Stacy's predicament is disclosed, it's part head-scratcher, part lightbulb moment. I appreciate how it serves as an impetus for Elliot and breaking free from the chains of the past -- but, I wish it were something better explained in the story.
Overall, this was a really, really good read, and, once again, I have fallen in love with the MacKenzies and McBrides. (I went online to check out the next few books in the series, and it was really, really hard to resist buying them.)
The Seduction of Elliot McBride is Book 5 in Jennifer Ashley's MacKenzies/McBrides series. To find out more about Jennifer Ashley and her books, click below: