Karen Ranney is one of the most frustrating authors. The MacRae series has held no appeal for me. I bought two of the earlier highland lord books and couldn't finish either one. Why I bought this one, I'm not sure. I picked it up on impulse, remembering that while Karen Ranney has put out some lousy stories, she's also written some brilliant ones. Any author who can make a leper into one of the greatest romance heroes of all time has to have a few more good books left in her. So I bought, I read, and while I'm not thrilled, I see serious signs that Karen Ranney may be moving back into top form.
Young and madly in love, Jeanne du Marchand was a French noblewoman whose dreams were about to come true. At sixteen, she found herself carrying her lover's child, expecting to marry him so they could begin their happily ever after. Fate and her arrogant jerk of a father step in. Her father tells her that her lover has abandoned her and sends her away to bear her child in disgrace. After the child is born he has it taken away from her and sends her to a convent where she is to pay for her sins for the next nine years. Jeanne hopes that her lover will come for her, hopes to be reunited with her child and endures physical and mental torture at the convent so that she can find them again someday.
At seventeen, Douglas MacRae's heart was shattered when he was abandoned by Jeanne. A servant tells him Jeanne is with child and has fled from him, never wanting to see him again. Leaving France for his native Scotland, Douglas is distraught, but resolves to return to France and at least find his child. At Jeanne's family estate, he learns that she has borne their child and left it with an old peasant couple. Douglas takes his malnourished, nearly dead infant daughter from the couple and returns with her to Scotland, hating Jeanne for abandoning the child. He names the baby Margaret.
Our story really begins when Jeanne and Douglas meet again ten years later. Jeanne has been forced to flee both the convent and France because of the Revolution, and decides to make her way to Scotland. She's working as a governess for a business associate of Douglas's. When her employer makes improper remarks about her to Douglas, Douglas seeks her out and offers her a job as his governess. Jeanne takes Douglas up on his offer when her employer molests her and threatens to make her his mistress.
"So In Love" is, as you have probably guessed, a story with a HUGE misunderstanding. Jeanne is mad at Douglas because he never came back for her and their child. Douglas is mad at Jeanne because she left him and deserted their child, leaving the infant to die. Do they ever have a conversation and figure all this out? Yeah, about thirty pages away from the end of the book. This story left me gritting my teeth in frustration over the unnecessary lack of communication.
Jeanne is, in almost every way, an excellent heroine. She's had a rough time of it, but she's a survivor. Despite the terrible things that have happened, she still has a soft heart underneath her armor and you find yourself really hoping she'll get a happy ending. It's weird, but even her reluctance to explain to Douglas and clear up the big misunderstanding is so well done that I almost buy into it (almost), and oddly it never leads me to question her intelligence. She's tough with the villain when he reappears, not giving an inch, and I just can't help but like her.
Douglas is a fairly likable hero too. He's raised his daughter, and I'm as much a sucker for the "sexy hero raising a kid alone" thing as the next girl is. It is even believable that he offers to hire Jeanne despite the fact that he hates her so much, because deep down he's a good guy and hates to see anyone in her tough position--and of course deep down he's still in love with her. Douglas's character is a little less believable with the big misunderstanding thing. He hasn't been stuck in a convent being tortured for the last nine years, and he should have the intelligence to realize that they were just teenagers and that whatever he might think she's guilty of, Jeanne has obviously changed--not that she's really guilty of anything, as he'd discover if they just had a conversation.
Karen Ranney specializes in angst. When she's on her game, she's an absolute master at it, and she really makes an effort in "So In Love". It's sad, but for what it's worth I want to say that "So In Love" is hands down the best "misunderstanding" story I've ever read. It's readable, in spite of the frustrating elements. In fact, for me, it was downright enjoyable. The character development is thorough, the love story is poignant, and because they were so young when they were separated, you want to give the protagonists the benefit of the doubt.
I give this book three stars. While this isn't a masterpiece, I'm glad I read it. Karen Ranney seems to be done with the MacRae series and she also seems to be almost fully back on track. I'd recommend this to any Ranney fan who can stomach the "misunderstanding" angle, because otherwise it's excellent. If you're new to Karen Ranney, I'd say read it if this kind of story appeals to you. If you're not sure about this story but you love your romance with serious angst, then do whatever it takes to find yourself a copy of Ms. Ranney's "My Beloved"--it's on my all-time top ten list.