First of all, what is up with that cover? I can spend this entire blog post snarking on it. It’s just so vintage Barbara Cartland in all its watercolor-filter goodness.
So. Okay. Wild and Wicked in Scotland by Melody Thomas didn’t really have a Highlander [apologies to readers of my last Monday Reading meme; I got cross-eyed and referred to Devil of the Highlands by Lynsay Sands.] So. No Highlanders, no kilts, not even a swatch of tartan. The brogue could be found only among the smattering of locals and the occasional teasing between the hero and the heroine. So, no, no Highlanders (I can’t seem to stress this enough, haha)–but there is an aristocrat (Devlyn St. Claire, the Earl of Hampstead, from good ol’ Britain), and there’s your not-so-usual American heiress (meet Cassie Sheridan, folks).
When Cassandra Sheridan agreed to an arranged marriage to the Earl of Hampstead, she never dreamed the cad wouldn’t even bother to appear for their betrothal ball. It seems her intended cares more for gallivanting than meeting his bride-to-be! So Cassie decides to enjoy an adventure of her own and sets out across Scotland…and meets a dashing stranger who has elevated dueling and deception to an art form.
A dedicated spy on a mission, the Earl of Hampstead has more on his mind than a silly party. Now fate has thrown him together with a vivacious lady whom he must protect from harm, and whose sensuous beauty is proving most distracting. Worse still, Devlyn is horrified to discover she’s the very woman he’s engaged to marry!
With their lives and reputations in equal peril, do they dare surrender to their irresistible desires?
 The characters. The heroine Cassie is a strong heroine–not scandalously so, not brash, not as “uncultured” or “modern” as most American brides in this era have been written as (in romance novels), not annoyingly and anachronistically “spirited” and all those usual adjectives that seem de rigeur for these kinds of characters. She’s developed a reputation in England as Yank Ice Princess, but even then, that’s reasonable. And awesome. She’s got a backbone, and a deep well of dignity and integrity and just, how can I put this, a silent strength? Cassie nips those potential Big Mises and TSTL scenarios in the bud. Plus, she spends half of the novel in a freaking forest. That’s backbone.
The hero. Devlyn St. Claire is a good man, with a lot of danger to him. And, as with the rest of the novel, he’s such well-written character in that Thomas has no qualms taking her time building their personalities. For example, although the first time we hear of Devlyn, it’s that he didn’t care to show up in his own bethrothal ball. However, the first time we see Devlyn, he’s swashbuckling. And it’s not your run-of-the-mill swashbuckling; this is Save the Government kind of swashbuckling, the results and consequences of which will thread through the rest of the novel.
I like these two. Regardless of the setting, they’ve got contemporary sensibilities that does not, in any way, seem anachronistic. Although there is that thing with the toothbrush [see N(itpicking) #02]. I can’t quote direct passages from the book that describe these two’s personalities–again, Thomas is a skillful character writer that she doesn’t need to enumerate the characters’ stellar qualities from the get-go. Hurrah, a romance novelist who really does show and not tell.
 The whole goddamned novel. It’s a novel that constantly surprises you, tropes and plotlines and all. There’s a lot of potential for the tired cliches, but Thomas takes the high road–there are no petty familial squabbles, no Big Misunderstandings, no long-winded exulatations of the dark glories of spyhood. Thomas grabs all those tired tropes and plotlines by the balls and tosses them in the trash bin. It doesn’t linger in what would usually be the grounding of most romances: the American-British clashes, the matter of the familial squabbles and disappointments. Even the spyhood stuff doesn’t get tedious–and I usually hate the aristocrat-spy characterization. So, yay.
 My problem with the romance novels I’ve been reading lately is that, well, they’re not too terribly romantic. That is: I WANT OVERWROUGHT, PEOPLEZ. Just saying. But yeah, this is a good novel. I just miss a good swoon, ya know? When was the last time I swooned?
 There were toothbrushes in 1874? Just asking.
I really like this novel, I don’t know why I haven’t even heard of her before. I got this book from an Avon Books twitter giveaway–this, and eight other books, woohoo! I’ve got one other Melody Thomas on my bookshelf from Avon, Angel in My Bed, and I’m already thinking that I need more. Nudge nudge wink wink? Eherm.