A battle of wills!
When Lady Sara Herriard’s husband dies in a duel, she turns her back on the vagaries of the ton. From now on, she will live as she pleases. She won’t change for anyone – certainly not for the infuriating Lucian Avery, Marquess of Cannock!
Lucian must help his sister recover from a disastrous elopement and reluctantly enlists Lady Sara’s help. She couldn’t be further from the conventional, obedient wife he’s expected to marry, but soon, all he craves is for her to surrender – and join him in his bed!
Surrender to the Marquess is the third book in Louise Allen’s series about the Herriard family which began in Forbidden Jewel of India. That book told the story of Major Nicholas Herriard and Anusha Laurens, the Anglo-Indian daughter of an East India Company merchant and a high-born Indian lady. After their marriage, the couple remained in India and brought up their two children there, but when, a couple of years before this book opens, Herriard became Marquess of Eldonstone, the family relocated to England.
Not long after their return, their daughter, Lady Sarisa, fell in love with and married a young Cambridge scholar, Dr. Michael Harcourt. He was certainly an unusual choice for the daughter of a marquess, but her parents only wanted Sara to be happy, and the couple was certainly that – until one tragic night when her husband and his best friend imbibed too much and got into an argument. A challenge was issued, the duel was fought, and Michael was killed, leaving Sara a young widow burdened with guilt at the fact that the argument had been about her and furious at the stupid, careless way that men resort so quickly to violence in order to defend their honour and avenge any slight, no matter how insignificant.
Following her loss, Sara decided she needed time to work out what she wanted to do with her life. She went to stay at a quiet seaside resort in Dorset and ended up purchasing a small shop that sells artist and craft supplies. Twice a week, she also opens it as a tea room for the local ladies, where they can meet to discuss their projects and congregate somewhere they are not expected to confine themselves to idle chit-chat or to sit about looking decorative. Everyone knows that Mrs. Harcourt is also Lady Sarisa, but she is well-liked and respected within the community and they are happy to indulge her whim of maintaining her two separate personalities; as a shopkeeper by day and a well-born lady at local assemblies and other social events.
Sara is naturally able to spot a well-to-do gentlemen when she sees one, and that’s exactly what she sees when the sinfully handsome Mr. Dunton enters her shop one day, looking, he tells her, for something to amuse and occupy his younger sister, who has been ill and is not recovering well. Sara suggests that perhaps she could visit Miss Dunton and take along some samples of her arts and crafts supplies to see if she can find something to interest the young lady. Mr. Dunton readily agrees, and on meeting Marguerite, Sara sees that her brother’s descriptions were not exaggerated, and suggests that perhaps she might like to attend her tearoom that afternoon. Very soon, the ladies have fallen into friendship, and Sara learns the truth of the situation, that Marguerite had fallen in love and eloped with her brother’s secretary, that she lost a baby and that her lover has unaccountably disappeared.
Sara very quickly identifies “Mr. Dunton” as Lucian Avery, the Marquess of Cannock and rightly guesses that he has adopted a false name and brought his sister to an unfashionable resort in order to protect her reputation. As Sara’s friendship with Marguerite progresses, so does her relationship with Lucian – although friendship is certainly not what either of them would really prefer. Because she is a widow, Sara is allowed more freedom in her dealings with men than an unmarried lady and she’s honest with herself about her desire for Lucien and the fact that she misses the closeness and physical satisfaction of lovemaking. The attraction between the pair is intense, but, as Sara points out, a gentleman cannot present his lover as a potential friend for his sister. Realising that Sara’s friendship appears to be doing Marguerite a deal of good, Lucian accepts that an affair is out of the question. Until, that is, an unexpected development throws everything into chaos, and suddenly frees the couple from that bar to exploring the potential for passion between them.
Louise Allen is one of my favourite authors, and once again, she does not disappoint. Surrender to the Marquess has a real freshness and originality to it, qualities that single it out in a sub-genre that is filled to the brim with repetitive storylines and recycled characters. The plot here is believable and well-paced, and the protagonists are fully-rounded, likeable but flawed individuals who have a lot to overcome before they can be together. Sara is unconventional in her upbringing and outlook, but isn’t one of those heroines who continually flaunts that unconventionality; rather, she’s a woman who is comfortable in her own skin who recognises the social conventions even if she doesn’t always agree with or abide by them. And while Lucian seems, at first, to be a typically privileged and autocratic aristocrat, it’s clear from his concern for his sister that he is a good man whose actions are motivated by his desire to do the best he can for those he cares for.
I also really liked the way the author looks at the issue of male patriarchy, and in particular the preoccupation with the preservation of honour and manner of defending it, in a way I haven’t come across before in an historical romance. As a man brought up with that very strict code of what is gentlemanly, Lucian’s natural instinct is to protect and defend in a certain way, while Sara’s is to question and oppose, to the extent that she is prepared to sacrifice her own happiness to preserve life – and I think that’s something we can all sympathise with.
Naturally, their contrary views on the matter mean that both Lucian and Sara are going to have to make some serious readjustments to their ways of thinking if they are ever going to work as a couple, and there comes a point towards the end of the book where it seems as though they are never going to be able to reconcile their very different points of view. Fortunately however, Ms. Allen has created a pair of mature characters who are able to learn from their mistakes and realise that the other is worth that readjustment. As long as they are both willing to compromise and talk to each other, they know they will be able to make a go of it, and I came away from the book feeling satisfied that both characters had got what they deserved in each other.
Surrender to the Marquess is a thoroughly enjoyable read that works on every level; the chemistry between the protagonists is palpable, the writing is excellent and the romance is beautifully shaped and developed. I was engrossed from beginning to end and, if you choose to pick it up, I’m sure you will be, too.