I liked Mac and Isabella so much in The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie that I remember pre-ordering this book, staying up until it downloaded onto my Nook at like 12:15 AM and then reading the whole thing in a few hours. One of my absolute favorite tropes in romance is a story in which the characters marry either at the beginning or shortly after the book begins. One of the tropes I actually like less is marriages in which there have been separations and now they're reuniting. This is generally because when a married couple separates, particularly in this time period, it's usually through the bad behavior of one of them. I actually hate unfaithful couples -- it's so hard for me to look past it. I know, it's prudish of me, but I know what I like.
That was not the issue here, thankfully. Mac and Isabella separated three years prior to the beginning of this story because Mac was too much--he drank too much, he partied too much, and he just wasn't really emotionally healthfully enough to be in a marriage, and I think Isabella was just too young to really know how to do anything about it until it reached the breaking point.
I loved watching them find their way back to one another and deal with life throughout the book. There is a decent amount of plot in this book with a wide supporting cast, but it never feels like overkill. It just feels like Isabella and Mac are getting to know each other again, realizing who they are underneath it all. I loved this book so much -- almost more than the first book though that's pretty difficult to say.
I was particularly moved by the way Jennifer Ashley wove their backstory in this story. It would have been easy to open this book with a few chapters that gave us a snippet into the first few years of their marriage, but she never does that. We really only get one full flash back of the day Mac came home after Isabella's miscarriage. Instead, the characters reveal their backstory as they work through their issues and I think that's more emotionally rich. You can see the stories from both their perspectives which is also good.
By the time Isabella and Mac reunite and officially come back to one another at the end--when she burns the letter she wrote him, their love story feels earned and it feels more deep than their first go around. They were beautiful people who were wildly in love those first few years, but now they feel as though they're settled and mature and able to really deal with the hardships that life can throw at you.
The only quibble I have is that I think the villain who is lurking in the background is interesting right up until you meet him. He's a little...one note for me. A little too crazy, a little too on the nose. I wish we'd had more insight into how he learned so much about Mac that Mac would actually distracted by the truths Payne delivered. It just felt like a wonky note.