Highlander in Her Bed is the sort of romance novel that, by intention, strains credibility at every turn. The principles are an American woman, Mara McDougall – who, despite having no Scottish relations, inherits a Scottish castle – and a seven-hundred-year-old Scottish ghost, Alex Douglas. The conflict is obvious and immediate, as is the catch: A ghost, unlike his undead brethren, lacks a corporeal body, and something, most likely something implausible, needs to happen to ensure the hero and heroine jaunt off to their happily ever after. A bit of poof or smoke and mirrors needs to be employed so that the ghost is alive again or, at least, just solid flesh. One of the most exciting aspects of romance is the willingness of the authors who work within the genre to take on a premise that doesn’t even hope to be believable. Every once in a while there is a rather spectacular payoff for the risk. Usually such success is the result of grounding an otherwise unbelievable premise –The Black Dagger Brotherhood comes to mind – but here, with Highlander in Her Bed, Allie MacKay didn’t take that route, instead she went for the might-as-well-hemorrhage-believability-at-every-turn path and the result is only spectacular in the train wreck sense of the word.
In the early fourteenth century, Alex was murdered by Colin MacDougall (alternant spelling deliberate). The end of Alex’s life came by both ambush and betrayal, as he traveled to marry Isobel MacDougall. There was a piece of magic jewelry, not involved in Alex’s murder so much, as simply on the scene, The Bloodstone of Dalriada, that’s rumored to grant its holder three wishes (this isn’t important at this juncture, but manages to reemerge just in time for the smoke and mirrors ending). As Alex goes down under his enemies’ swords he vows to haunt the MacDougalls, specifically vowing that no one will ever sleep in the bed he intended for his bride-to-be. Of all the things Alex could have threatened, he chose to doom himself to haunting a bed.
And that’s how, seven hundred years later, Alex in his non-corporeal form ends up with his bed in an English antique shop. An antique shop Mara just happens to stumble upon, whereby encountering both bed and ghost (though she doesn’t know that last bit) just hours before inheriting the MacDougall homestead castle from a woman she has only the most tenuous of nonfamilial ties to. If one of the most basic strifes of this story is that Alex and Mara are ancestral enemies, why not allow them to be that? Wouldn’t it be more believable for Mara to inherit her bit of Scotland through a blood tie and then have her stumble upon Alex once inside the castle? What better place for Alex to haunt the MacDougalls than in their home? The bed angle is silly and adds needless stress to the story.
The lack of solid foundation is only the first stumbling block here, Highlander in Her Bed goes on to fail as a romance because MacKay keeps her principles separated from one another for the majority of the book. To fill the pages Mara and Alex spend great oceans of time contemplating and brooding over each other. Their ponderings are circular and repetitive. Alex hates Mara because she’s a MacDougall and is further perplexed by his attraction to her. Mara doesn’t understand how Alex keeps appearing from the ether and disappearing back into it, but she’s sure he’s deranged and she’s perplexed by her attraction to him. Time spent lost in thought doesn’t allow for much action and as such the story is largely interior and struggles to stay in the physical. After a few brief and pointless encounters (including one in which Alex molests Mara; let’s agree that below the belt touching needs consent and buildup), their hatred transmutes to lust, then their lust transmutes to love with large steps missing in between. Alex and Mara have sex and their feelings for one another are instantly and unexplainably of the forever and ever deathless variety. Alex even gives up his nearly millennia long abhorrence for the MacDougalls without the benefit of the vindication he deserves.
The setup for Highlander in Her Bed is cute and should be rife with inherent conflict (the hero, after all, is dead). However, the story suffers as what should be sharp story points blunt under MacKay’s ministrations and the book falls short on the most elementary of principles. From the outset a romance involving a ghost asks for a tremendous suspension of disbelief from the reader (even from a reader all too happy to be whisked along with the premise). Given that, keeping the rest of the story as convincing as possible would seem to be of the utmost importance. That Highlander in Her Bed doesn’t otherwise aim for credibility perplexes throughout the story.
You can visit Allie here and purchase this book here and here.