I have to admit, I sort of like romance novels that deal with Issues, instead of just the usual issue of what to wear and when and how much much to fuck. In The Runaway McBride, Elizabeth Thornton’s characters are all dealing with the changing place of women in society – women with educations, women with aspirations beyond marriage, motherhood, etc. Thornton doesn’t really come to a conclusion one way or the other – the problem with Issues and taking a stance is you risk upsetting your readers, which is less profitable than side-stepping – and I guess we’re supposed to imagine that her hero isn’t one of those boorish hero-types, he’s a guy who’s going to let his lady grow into a complex human being. Or something. Seriously, lady, I ain’t buying it.
So the hero’s a Scottish lord (aren’t they all) but a “modern” lord (modern being 19th century and educated) and his beloved grandmother tells him and his two cousins as she’s dying that the family “curse” (seeing the future) is going to be passed onto one of them. And she also says that his bride is in danger and if he doesn’t help her she’ll die – he’s a widower, which would make me think that maybe granny is off her game, but he makes the connection to an old lover, Faith McBride, who he calls Faithless McBride (OOOH WICKED BURN) and he figures he should track her down and see what’s up. So later he finds her in a bookshop, where she’s having her mail delivered, she being a teacher up to some kind of SUPER SECRET BUSINESS, and she is the opposite of excited to see him in the bookshop. Both of them feel totally betrayed by the other – she because he said he would wait for her and then married someone else, he because she said she would wait for him and then ran away with someone else – so I figure when the truth comes out they’ll fall on each other like ravenous, sex-starved animals and hump into oblivion. She escapes him in bookshop (but he asks the bookshop owner where she lives/works, and the guy tells him, so it’s not much of an escape so much as a delay) and then he discovers that she’s placed an ad in the paper looking for information on a woman whose name he doesn’t recognize. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?! Also, this all happens in the first, like, 30 pages.
Sassy Mz. McBride works at a fancy schmancy school for young women – but not just any school, one of those EDUCATIONAL schools, where they care about the intelligence of their students and the girls actually want to go on to college. This is an era of enlightenment! She’s also gotten a response from a Lady Cowpie or something about the woman and they set up a lunch date to dish on their shared acquaintance. But meanwhile, McBride feels like she’s being followed! watched! her stuff messed with! But maybe not. Maybe she’s just being paranoid. Then it’s Speech Day, which is sort of like an open house day where prospective students and their families visit and the current students show off how awesome and smart they are. Guess who shows up? Our Psychic Scot and his aunt, who’s apparently some kind of bigwig in Women’s Rights, UK Edition. He spies on McBride and makes her nervous and then snoops around in her room – not looking so paranoid NOW, is she?! – and then goes to observe her classroom (she teaches the classics, because her dad was a scholar, aw). Then he makes all kinds of inappropriate and stupid comments about how learning and is all well and good, but what about marriage? What about love? What about a husband? So McBride is like, “Seriously, dude, EFF OFF with that shit!” and I totally agree, because how much of a douchebag can you be, showing up to a school for women where women are being educated and empowered and starting up with your garbage about love and marriage and how sad life would be without it, even if you are smart and whatever? MISSING THE DAMN POINT, PARTY OF YOU. Even if it is to make the teacher uncomfortable, COME ON that’s some nonsense. What a jackass. Then he tries to redeem himself, I guess, by helping her stack books and then she falls off a ladder and knocks him into a closet and the door shuts behind them and they’re TRAPPED! TOGETHER! IN THE DARK! And obviously what happens in the closet in the dark is some digital stimulation because of course that’s what I want to get into with a jackass who showed up in my life to do jackassy things and then people come and let them out and he walks off giggling and sniffing his fingers (I mean, I assume). This guy sucks. Then McBride goes off to her appointment with Lady Cowpie and learns that the woman, Madeline, is her MOTHER who not only didn’t die when she was six years old, but had a very fulfilling life away from her (ex) husband and daughter for a pretty long while, supporting herself as a writer and Egyptologist, dying ten years or so later. Obviously McBride is upset to hear this, who wouldn’t be, and the book continues to raise semi-interesting questions about the role of wife and mother in a woman’s life, a woman who wants more for herself, things we still haven’t figured out completely in 2011, but in order for all this musing to mean anything McBride has to dump the douche and go to Egypt and live her own damn life sans-jackass. I WILL SETTLE FOR NOTHING LESS. (Obviously I am gearing up for disappointment.) Then blah blah blah intrigue blah blah blah possibly murdered blah blah blah HER DIARY. Yes, McBride’s missing momma left her diary with her friend Lady Cowpie who is now giving it to McBride and I’m sure MUCH will be revealed.
So she gets her momma’s diary and wants to sit down and get to work on it right away (it’s in code, of course), but Lady Cowpie is feeling chatty so instead she yammers on about this and that, blahdy blahdy blah, and then, oh shoot!, it’s time to leave to catch her train. She hops into Lady Cowpie’s carriage to go to the train station and the guy is driving SO SLOW, so she’s like, yo dude pedal to the metal here, and then…wait, were those gunshots? WERE THOSE GUNSHOTS?! Hell yeah they were and now the carriage is moving QUICK because who’s the driver? Our Psychic Scot, seriously. Then they have to bail on the carriage and he tells her to go hide and at first she does and then she’s like, this isn’t my thing, and then the Bad Guys find her, and then the Psychic Scot rescues her. Business as usual. Then they head for the train station and they almost don’t make it, but he, like, owns the train or something so they make it. She’s not safe! She can’t go home! She certainly can’t go anywhere that isn’t with him – for safety – and, also, for safety, maybe they should make out, but as soon as she starts to WANT it, he’s like, oh gross female desire get away from me. What a tool. So they show up at his aunt’s place only to find that his dad, stepmom and half-siblings are also there. He tells them a half-truth about needing to protect McBride because she’s been attacked by brigands, and everyone assumes that they’re also engaged, which he doesn’t dispute. So she spends a few days under his thumb at his aunt’s house, learning about her mother and all the lovers her mother apparently had, and she’s like, rock on mom, but he’s like, ugh gross. Also his half-brother is 19 and named Rodrigo and is also something of a mischief-maker, so I like him immensely, and also he takes pains to annoy the psychic Scot so I like him even more. Isn’t Rodrigo a good romance novel hero name? I think he should take over. McBride, wouldn’t you rather have a young hot piece of ass? A few days later they all go out shopping, which the Psychic Scot hates because UGH LADIES SHOP FOREVER, am I right?, and this guy McBride knows from the school who’s got the hots for her but she denies it shows up and the Psychic Scot is all GRRRR MALE POSTURING, and then I threw up a little. Later the go to the meeting of the Egyptological Society or whatever to meet some of her mom’s old pals, only it turns out everyone there sort of hated her mom – they’re nice to her face, but she can totally tell. And then this other guy shows up, Alastair, who’s the guy who traveled with her to Scotland when she and the Psychic Scot were engaged and that’s how she found out he was marrying someone else, but the Psychic Scot thinks that he’s actually a guy who seduced her and ran away with her and broke their engagement. So instead of being like, why is Alastair here?, he decides to play horrible mind games and be like, who was that dude you were talking to? Since he doesn’t know that she went to Scotland with Alastair to see him and that’s how she knew he was marrying someone else, she says oh just some guy, and since she didn’t say oh that’s my ex-lover Alastair, he gets all (internally) OH THAT LYING HUSSY SLUT WHAT A SLUTTY SLUTBAG. This guy, seriously, is a child. He’s a big tantrum-throwing manbaby and if she’s going to be with someone who’s immature and stupid, she should be with Rodrigo. OBVIOUSLY. Then she and Alastair meet up to talk about something and it starts to rain so they go into the boathouse only THERE’S A BODY IN THE BOATHOUSE, and not just any body, but the body of guy McBride knows from the school who’s got the hots for her but she denies it. DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNN…..!
So blah blah blah police investigation blah blah, they go back to his aunt’s house and no one’s home because that’s convenient to the plot and while they’ve been gone someone has stolen the diary and she’s so upset and needs to rest and there may or may not be some good old fashioned sexin’ and then they fall asleep. And he INFILTRATES HER DREAM. Did I mention he can do that? Because he can, and he does. (BOUNDARIES – YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.) So they have this shared dream, ugh, and they’re lost in a big house and it’s soooo scary and they can’t find each other and it’s just awful, boo hoo hooooo. And then she wakes up and he’s like “I HAD THE SAME DREAM…and, ps, it’s not a dream, it’s the future. That is going to happen to us and it’s going to suck.” But here’s the thing, they had this dream, he’s had it a bunch of times, why not use the dream to your advantage and explore the scary house and find a way out? Nobody likes that idea, so they agree to just keep being scared about the future and anxious about when all this scary house nonsense is going to go down. And then other stuff happens – sex and Rodrigo and huggy-family stuff and realizing that he wasn’t marrying the woman he ended up marrying, she just told McBride that out of jealousy so she would leave and he would marry her, which he did, and getting the diary back and figuring out WHODUNIT and getting kidnapped and ending up in the scary house, finally. So McBride is in the big scary house and she’s running – she’s running – she’s running away – until…! She runs smack into Rodrigo and he takes her in his arms and says, “I’m not psychic or a manbaby, what say you we rid ourselves of my brother and these clothes?” and she’s all, “rock ON, Rodrigo! I’ve loved you all along!” and they walk out the front door of the scary house, which isn’t so scary anymore, not now that they’ve found each other and realized what True Love can be, they march down the driveway to a waiting carriage and then they fuck all the way to Egypt. The psychic Scot sits down behind an ornamental rose bush and weeps, not only for the loss of his woman and the future they could have had – him, being an irrepentent ogre, she, perenially pregnant, her spirit broken – but because his entire sense of self has been rocked, he hasn’t predicted this future, and he doesn’t have the emotional maturity of a rock so he doesn’t foresee any kind of recovery. He doesn’t know where to turn, who to ask for help. He only knows a great, heavy sadness.
Basically, that’s how it ends. Trust me on this one.