Never Less Than a Lady by Mary Jo Putney (audiobook) – Narrated by Simon Prebble

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As the sole remaining heir to the Earl of Daventry, Alexander Randall knows his duty: find a wife and sire a son of his own. The perfect bride for a man in his position would be a biddable young girl of good breeding. But the woman who haunts his imagination is Julia Bancroft—a village midwife with a dark secret that thrusts her into Randall’s protection.

Within the space of a day, Julia has been abducted by her first husband’s cronies, rescued, and proposed to by a man she scarcely knows. Stranger still is her urge to say yes. A union with Alexander Randall could benefit them both, but Julia doubts she can ever trust her heart again, or the fervent desire Randall ignites. Yet perhaps only a Lost Lord can show a woman like Julia everything a true marriage can be…

Rating: B-

This is another audiobook I borrowed from the library, principally because Simon Prebble is one of my favourite narrators.

Julia, a widow, is a country midwife, who had captured the interest of Alex Randall in the previous book – although he was reluctant to show any interest and gave her to believe he disliked her.  But Julia has a dark past and is hiding from her late husband’s father, who believes that she murdered her late husband (who was Alex’s cousin). In fact, he was an abusive bastard and she killed him in self-defence, but she knew she’d never have been believed and ran.

At the beginning of the story, she is discovered by two thugs (hired by her ex-father-in-law) and kidnapped; Alex rescues her and offers her marriage in order to protect her.  She’s reluctant, but sees the sense in it and eventually agrees.

Putney doesn’t shy away from describing the horrors of Julia’s first marriage, and her fears about intimacy and sex are well-grounded.  I suspect her ‘recovery’ was probably quite fast, although I have absolutely no knowledge about how a woman who has been subjected to what Julia went through would have reacted or if she could ever have let another man touch her.  But this is a romantic novel so one has to allow some degree of poetic license; and the author did a good job of giving the situation a degree of credibility and in showing Julia’s struggles and both the forward and backwards steps that were taken in her relationship with Alex.

In fact, the part that felt least plausible to me came later in the book once Alex and Julia have discovered that she is, in fact, a great heiress and he begins to worry that she no longer needs him (a fact which rather wounds his masculine pride).  But then, she had given him little reason to think otherwise, especially given her initial  insistence on there being a way out of the marriage if she wanted it at the end of a year.

This isn’t always an easy read, but it was an engaging story and I liked the characterisation of the two principals – Alex is kind and honourable, and Julia is no-nonsense.

Simon Prebble is an excellent narrator.  He differentiates character voices clearly and although one or two of his accents were a bit wobbly, overall, I enjoyed his performance.

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