If I had to describe What Happens in Scotland by Jennifer McQuiston in one sentece it would be this: the hero and heroine don't really meet until page 140. Also there's a lack of shoes, but more on that later.
I really wanted to like this book. The premise is similar to The Hangover; a night of partying leads to confusion and regrets in the morning. The problem is, you can't have a romance novel where the hero and heroine are apart for 127 pages. The point of a romance novel is for them to grow and change together in order to find love. This was really just humorous historical fiction with some lovin' thrown in at the end, and that's not what I signed up for, folks.
Georgette, the very proper Lady Thorold, wakes up in a strange bed, in a strange inn, with a strange man. He’s hot, but still strange. Also her corset is hanging from the curtain rod and they’ve totally Charlie Sheened the place, broken furniture and all. She isn’t a lady who goes without a corset or shows her ankles or anything remotely scandalous so all this shocks her.
Even more concerning is the ring on her finger. She’s recently widowed and has no intention of ever getting married again, even to MacHotness who is just waking up. All these factors cause her to have a panic attack, and she does the first thing that comes to mind—crack MacHotness over the head with a chamber pot. The chamber pot was empty, by the way, because I know you were wondering.
Georgette dashes out of the room and into the street where she runs into her cousin Randolph. Recently out of mourning, Georgette came to Scotland to stay with Randolph, a botanist, for a nice visit. Instead of being an awesome and supportive family member, Creeper Cousin Randy pressures her to marry him. She remembers being sufficiently grossed out by his proposal which led to brandy which led to MacHotness in her bed. Creeper Cousin Randy notes that she’s pretty much ruined now and has to marry him, and he’s kind of pissed when she points out she might have tied the knot last night. Whoops.
Meanwhile James Mackenzie, aka MacHotness, wakes up with a concussion and vague memory of a gorgeous blonde he spent the night with. His head injury is making his memories fuzzy, but when he realizes his money purse is gone, he thinks the woman in question set him up as a mark and robbed him blind. He’s the town solicitor and not a wealthy man, and the missing money represents a month’s worth of earnings.
Georgette and James set out on separate journeys to figure what the hell happened the previous night and to track each other down. James wants to have Georgette arrested for theft, and Georgette wants an annulment because she’s wealthy and afraid James will use their marriage as a means to her inheritance. All of this leads to a convoluted plot that involves half the town and plenty of misunderstandings.
But wait! That’s not all! For the low-low price of $7.99 we also get subplots involving missing horses, kittens hiding in boobies, ex-school chums turned villains, and Creeper Cousin Randy running around with the pinking shears.
I had a lot of trouble making it through the first half of the book because from page 13, when Georgette leaves the inn, to page 140, the main characters are not together. Georgette and James are on completely separate paths as they search for answers. Sure, some of these scenes were fun to read (like when Georgette finds out she hired Elsie, the town prostitute, to be her lady’s maid), but without the hero and heroine interacting I felt like the plot couldn’t advance in any meaningful way. We’re treated to plenty of backstory, but all sexual and romantic tension takes a cigarette break as James and Georgette stumble around Moraig looking for answers. I kept flipping pages thinking, “yeah, well they’ll get together in this next chapter,” and kept getting more and more frustrated when they didn’t.
I figured that if the crazy night of drunken sexytimes was that important, McQuiston would have opened the story there rather than focus on 127 pages of hazy memories and backstory.
I learned two things during this section of the book:
1. The blacksmith could and did marry people.
2. Ex-hookers make great maids. Elsie gets shit done.
When James and Georgette finally get together, things take off. The problem is that now there is too much to resolve in the short space left. It was difficult to believe that either was able to make the emotional journey necessary to fall in love in that span of time.
As they start to unravel the threads of what transpired the previous night, Georgette and James realize that neither of them as is nefarious as the other seems to think. They are also incredibly attracted to each other. This isn’t just the beer goggles talking either. Like a true romance heroine, Georgette’s shocked that James seems to be so attracted to her. She’s always considered herself unattractive with her white-blonde hair, pale skin, blue eyes, and huge boobs. I’m not even making this up. I had a mental picture of a fairer Kate Upton being all like “OMG I’m so ugly,” and in my mental picture I mentally punched her in her face.
Anyway, her late husband made it clear he didn’t really want her when he screwed his way around England, and she felt inadequate and rejected. Georgette’s sexual experiences with her husband left her less than enthused about lovemaking, and the fact that she even wants to kiss James is a revelation to her.
One thing that irked me, and I might be getting petty here, is that amount of time Georgette ran around without shoes on. From the moment she wakes up in the inn to the final pages, Georgette is either barefoot or wearing boots that aren’t suited for anything other than crossing a room in. At one point James steals her shoes so she can’t chase after him when he goes to confront the villain. What does Georgette do? Crawl out the window barefoot and go prancing around Scotland at night. Every time her bare feet were mentioned I was like GODAMMIT GEORGETTE WHERE ARE YOUR SHOES?! Ask Elsie for shoes. Elsie will steal a bitch some shoes.
Overall, James and Georgette were a couple I found myself cheering for. They’re both damaged, but not bitter or angry. They each want to help the other, and without realizing it, begin to heal themselves in the process. Had McQuiston brought them together from the beginning this book could have been stellar, but I couldn’t get past the stilted pacing.