The Counterfeit Coachman by Elisabeth Fairchild

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On her way to Brighton to visit her aunt, sweet, naive Nell Quinby never expected to gallop down the road to romance with the quick-witted post coachman and his lop-eared dog. She also never expected to discover the kind young knight of the whip who won her heart was a complete counterfeit.

Rating: B+

This was one of those books that deserves a round of “awwwwww…” when it’s finished because it’s just so lovely. Elisabeth Fairchild is one of those writers who can deliver on all counts – a good story, well-rounded characters and an emotionally satisfying romance – and maintain the reader’s interest without resorting to sensationalism or melodrama.

On her way to Brighton with her aunt and younger sister, Nell Quinby is saved from an accident by the quick thinking and actions of a young coachman named Beau Ferd.

Nell feels an instant attraction to Beau who, while not being devastatingly handsome (as are so many romantic heroes) has a kind face, a beautiful smile and a thoroughly engaging manner. He also speaks with a stammer, which she can see embarrasses him.

But, as per the title, this coachman is a counterfeit. Beau Ferd is in actuality Lord Brampton Beauford, fifth Duke of Heste. Having acceded to the title upon the death of his father a year previously, he is having trouble adjusting to the weight of his new responsibilities, as well as grieving for the parent he has lost. He is also weary of the young ladies of the ton who are continually throwing themselves at his wealth and title. He knows that most of them ridicule or pity him for his speech impediment behind his back, and he wants to get away from society for a while. What he really wants is to find someone who will love him for himself rather than what he has.

Nell has also lost her father, but unlike Beau, who has inherited a great fortune, Nell has inherited debts and a family (her mother and sisters) to care for. Nell’s sister Aurora is a great beauty and her mother has hopes of her making a great match, having planned to introduce her to none other than the ridiculously wealthy Duke of Heste, who has mysteriously disappeared from London.

As Beau and Nell become closer, he begins to feel guilty at keeping his true identity a secret, while Nell knows she could never be with him because of the necessity of providing for her family by marrying well. She loves Beau for his kindness and generosity, but he’s a coachman and while he may be able to support a wife in simple style, she is unwilling to burden him with the care of her mother and sisters, too.

The couple might never progress beyond a kiss on the page, but there is no less emotional depth on display than in many a more recently written book in which the bedroom door is left open; in fact, I’d say that the romantic tension in this story runs just as high from the start, as Nell is as much struck by Beau’s gentleness as she is by the beauty of his eyes and smile, while he is confounded by the sudden pull he feels towards this attractive and lively young woman.

If there was a false note in the novel, it came near the end, and was specifically to do with Nell’s treatment of Beau when she discovered the truth. I could understand her fighting her attraction to him when she thought him a coachman because of her own impecunious circumstances, but I couldn’t like the way she behaved towards him once she found out that he was, in fact, a Duke. I have no problem with the fact that she felt hurt and betrayed, and wanted some time alone to lick her wound, but I thought she carried things too far. I’ve read many a book where I’ve felt that perhaps the heroine should have made the hero grovel a bit more because of some of the things he’s done and/or the hurt he’s caused her. But here, poor Beau is put through the wringer for very little reason – in fact he didn’t deliberately set out to deceive Nell, it was a misunderstanding that just, sort of, happened – and she is so preoccupied with her own feelings that she doesn’t spare a thought to how he must be feeling, or give him the opportunity to explain, because she flat-out refuses to see him.

It takes a while, but Nell does eventually begin to see the obvious – that despite the deception, for a man in Beau’s position to have persevered without encouragement for so long, he must really love her; and also to realise her own duplicity in pretending not to care for a man with whom she is actually deeply in love. Fortunately, Nell comes to this realisation in time to set things to rights, and all ends well.

The Counterfeit Coachman is a beautifully written character-driven romance, featuring one of the sweetest heroes I’ve ever come across. Beau’s generosity of spirit, his gentleness and his strength of character shine throughout, and even though I’m not quite sure Nell really deserved him, I was happy to see him get the girl in the end.

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