Lady Barbara Jeffords is certain her little sister didn’t murder the footman, no matter how it looks…and no matter what the Marquess of Beningbrough—Ben—might say. She can scarcely help it if his cousin is the only other suspect. In fact, she wants nothing to do with ruggedly handsome Ben; he reminds her of all the insensitive clods who passed her over.
For years Ben has been dogged by painful gossip about his father’s rumored homosexuality. His gruff shell hides a passionate nature, and he’s also fiercely loyal—which is why he’ll never let the clever and beguiling Lady Barbara pin a murder on his cousin.
Sparks fly as the two compete to defend their loved ones. But as strange new clues emerge that neither can decipher alone, they have no choice but to compare notes and sleuth in tandem. A tenuous bond develops that soon faces its toughest challenge when Ben himself becomes a suspect…
A Tryst with Trouble is a thoroughly enjoyable Regency romp in which our two leads – Lord Benborough (Ben) and Lady Barbara Jeffords, by turns bicker, sleuth, and fall in love.
It’s a fast-paced, fun read which brought a smile to my face more than once, but there are definitely deeper emotions and insecurities buried beneath the humour, which I felt lent much to the overall balance of the story. While this edition was published only a few weeks ago, it is in fact Ms Everett’s first novel, and while there were times it didn’t feel quite as polished as her other two books (Ruined by Rumor and Lord of Secrets) there’s no doubt it’s been penned by a very sure, competent hand.
The story reads like a cross between a farce and a whodunit. Ben’s cousin Teddy is engaged to Barbara’s sister, Helen, but having received information to the effect that Helen is carrying on with the footman next door, Teddy has come to see Helen and her father (bringing Ben as moral support) to break off the engagement. But when that footman is later found dead and both Teddy and Helen fall under suspicion, their concerned relatives decide to prove their respective innocence. It’s not long, however, before Ben and Barbara realise that if they work together they are more likely to be able to discover the identity of the murder. And it’s not long after that before they find themselves mired in a plot involving blackmail, deceit, scandal, and attempted murder.
To be honest, the mystery was a little weak, although I have to say that I didn’t guess the identity of the culprit until fairly late in the book. If I have any complaints, it’s that the mystery element did overshadow the romance somewhat, and that Ben got hit on the head so many times I’m surprised his brains weren’t completely scrambled by the end!
Barbara and Ben are not well-disposed towards each other to start with – she thinks he’s an arrogant prig and he thinks she’s an over-opinionated harpy – but the more they are thrown into company, the more they begin to like each other and, more importantly, trust each other. The transition from dislike to lust to love does happen rather quickly, but what made it plausible for me was the fact that Ben and Barbara were able to talk to each other quite a lot, and in doing so began to reveal more and more about themselves, telling each other things they’ve never told anyone else.
I felt like they were actually getting to know each other, whether they were sniping, working together, or just talking, so that when Ben admits his true feelings to himself at around two-thirds of the way through the book, it didn’t feel like it came completely out of the blue.
The sexual tension between them is explosive, too, which makes for a couple of very sensual love scenes, even though they don’t actually have sex. While I often say that I’d rather have a bucket-load of sexual tension in a story than multiple, pointless sex-scenes, I think this is one time I’d have lobbied to read a sex-scene as well, because I think Ben and Barbara would probably have set the bed on fire had they got there!
While there is a lot of humour in the book, there is a deeper emotional element beneath the surface banter and farcical running around. Barbara is red-haired and voluptuous, and while she knows it’s petty of her and dislikes herself for it, can’t help being jealous of her sister who is an acknowledged beauty. Petite, pretty, and blonde, Helen has men falling at her feet, and Barbara has become used to the fact that men only pay attention to her in order to get to her sister. Or rather, she thinks that’s the case – it’s more likely that men are put off by her independent spirit and sharp tongue, but she’s spent so long feeling unattractive in relation to her sister that she’s come to believe that her interpretation of the situation is the correct one.
Ben is arrogant, super-confident, and rather self-centred, but it soon becomes apparent that beneath that rather intimidating exterior, he’s also very honourable and cares deeply for his family and friends. He is also continually trying to prove that he’s nothing like his father, the Duke of Ormesby, who is widely rumoured to be homosexual. This is one of the more unusual aspects of the story, and I felt was it was handled very well indeed. Having suffered a lot of cruel teasing at school, and being given nicknames like sweetheart and princess, Ben has spent most of his adult life proving his manliness by shagging loads of women or by beating men to a pulp in the boxing ring, and has deliberately distanced himself from the Duke, believing him to have broken his mother’s heart with his duplicity. I thought one of the best things about the book was the way in which the Duke was portrayed as a caring man and loving father; and the way in which Ben finally comes to understand and appreciate him was really touching.
The secondary characters are all well-drawn – Teddy is a sweetie, and, in an unexpected development, Helen is shown not to be the perfect young lady that Barbara has always believed her to be.
Unusually, the story is written in the first person (and I’m not a fan of that) and told from the viewpoints of both protagonists. I knew that to be the case going in, but having enjoyed this author’s work before, my apprehensions were allayed somewhat. I didn’t take me long to get used to the style, and once I did, I thought it worked very well, especially when it allowed the reader to get both their perspectives on the same situation.
A Tryst with Trouble is an entertaining, quick and sexy read. It’s well-written, the central couple are well-matched and engaging, and overall, I’d say it’s just the thing when you’re looking for a pick-me-up read on a grey winter afternoon.