I Adored a Lord by Katharine Ashe

adoredlord

All that clever, passionate Ravenna Caulfield wants is to stay far away from high society’s mean girls.

All that handsome, heroic Lord Vitor Courtenay wants is to dash from dangerous adventure to adventure.

Now, snowbound in a castle with a bevy of the ton’s scheming maidens all competing for a prince’s hand in marriage, Ravenna’s worst nightmare has come true.

Now, playing babysitter to his spoiled prince of a half-brother and potential brides, Vitor is champing at the bit to be gone.

When a stolen kiss in a stable leads to a corpse in a suit of armor, a canine kidnapping, and any number of scandalous liaisons, Ravenna and Vitor find themselves wrapped in a mystery they’re perfectly paired to solve. But as for the mysteries of love and sex, Vitor’s not about to let Ravenna escape until he’s gotten what he desires . . .

Rating: B+

The second book in Ms Ashe’s Prince Catchers trilogy focuses on Ravenna, the youngest of the three foundling sisters who have lived for a number of years under the guardianship of Mr Martin Caulfield, the vicar of a small country parish. In the previous book, I Married the Duke, a fortune teller prophesied that when one of them married a prince, they would finally discover the truth about their parentage. Arabella, the middle sister, is determined to fulfil the prophecy, but ends up falling in love with and marrying the Duke of Lycombe – a happenstance which has an unexpected effect on Ravenna’s life.

She is a free-spirited young woman whose love of nature and animals has led to her becoming skilled in the care of animals, and also in the knowledge of human anatomy and medicine. For the last six years, she has resided with Sir Beverley Clark and his close friend (and long-term companion) Mr. Pettigrew, where she looks after their menagerie of dogs, birds and horses. She likes her life, and is stunned when Sir Beverley informs her that due to her sister’s change in circumstances, it is no longer possible or appropriate for Ravenna, as the sister-in-law of a duke to be employed in service.

Still intent on fulfilling the gypsy’s prophecy, Arabella inveigles an invitation for Ravenna to attend a house party in the Franche-Comté which will be attended by Prince Sebastao of a minor branch of the Portugese royal family. Ravenna accompanies her employer and his friend, ever mindful of the fact that she is not of the same class as everyone else and, in fact, determined to remain on the fringes, wearing her practical, drab dresses and pursing her usual daily routines with the animals.

The house party has been convened so that the prince – a rather dissipated young man – can choose himself a bride from the suitable young ladies his parents have chosen to be paraded before him.

Among the other guests is Lord Vitor Courtenay, half-brother of the Earl of Chase. Ravenna can see that every female head in the place has been turned by the extremely handsome and charming Lord Courtenay, yet he displays no interest in anyone – except her.

Obviously, at a gathering involving a number of young ladies with marital ambitions towards the prince, and their equally ambitious mamas, there are bound to be metaphorical daggers drawn. The problems start, however, when the dagger turns out to be not so metaphorical and Ravenna stumbles across the body of a young man, dead from a stab-wound and encased in a suit of armour.

The snow sets in around the castle, meaning that the guests are pretty much stranded until it lets up, so Ravenna and Vitor work together to investigate the murder, exposing them to danger at the same time as it brings them closer together. The pair has great chemistry, and the way Ms Ashe creates and develops the romantic tension between the two is one of the most enjoyable things about the book. She is one of those authors who is able to write sharp, witty banter that never feels forced, or as though she has to try to be amusing – and it’s a joy to read.

Ms Ashe has penned a thoroughly entertaining “country house whodunnit”, acknowledging in her author’s note, her debt to Agatha Christie and the indomitable Hercule Poirot. She has assembled a fairly large and, it has to be said, sometimes clichéd cast – a pair of bitchy twins, a gruff horse-breeder and his mousy daughter, a vivacious Scottish heiress and her no-nonsense mother, a retiring scientist, and the handsome earl and his even handsomer half-brother. But the fact that the secondary characters are all easily recognisable “types” shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. They are well fleshed-out and familiarity with the tropes allows the reader to just sit back and enjoy the way the story unfolds.

Vitor and Ravenna make a very engaging couple. Vitor is a hero to die for; brave and honourable, he is not without his inner demons, but is also not a man to shy away from them. He has spent the last few years leading a monastic existence, trying to find a way to come to terms with a terrible betrayal and to find a more equable approach to life. He’s smitten with Ravenna from their first meeting, and he comes quickly to respect her intelligence and her abilities; he never wants her to be anything other than the woman she is. Ravenna is a terrific heroine – independent (without being stupidly “feisty”), clever and not afraid to speak her mind, especially in defence of those who find it difficult to defend themselves.

Ms Ashe is an excellent storyteller and I thoroughly enjoyed reading I Adored a Lord, but I do have a couple of criticisms. Firstly, Ravenna’s insistence in clinging to the belief that her station in life is too far beneath Vitor’s to allow them to be together is allowed to go on for a little too long; and secondly, while the identity of the murderer is brilliantly tongue-in-cheek, it comes rather out of left field, and doesn’t really make much sense in terms of the story as a whole. That said, though, it still make me laugh and neither of these reservations is enough to have spoiled my enjoyment of the book, to which I’m giving a hearty recommendation.

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