An heiress in distress and an earl in disgrace…
When heiress Violet Dunston escapes from an abduction, she finds an unlikely protector in Jack Warriner – a member of one of England’s most infamous families. Ensconced with mysterious Jack behind his manor’s walls, soon escape is the last thing on Letty’s mind!
Jack may be an earl, but his father’s exploits have left him with nothing to offer except a tarnished name. He’s turned his back on the ton, but with Letty tempting him day and night, he finds himself contemplating the unthinkable – a society marriage!
A Warriner to Protect Her is the first book in Virginia Heath’s new Wild Warriners series which features an impoverished earl and his three younger brothers. This one is a well-written story and the romance is nicely done; Ms. Heath has the knack of creating strong chemistry between her romantic couples and both central characters are attractive and engaging. I had a couple of niggles along the way, but nothing that seriously impacted on my enjoyment of the book, which is an entertaining and satisfying read.
Violet Dunston is heiress to the massive fortune amassed by her father in the tea trade, hence her being nicknamed ‘The Tea Heiress’. Having lost her parents in a tragic accident some years earlier, she was taken in by her uncle, who was appointed her guardian, and has lived in the spotlight of London society, her fortune making her a great prize on the marriage mart. On her twenty-first birthday, she will come into full possession of her considerable inheritance – an inheritance her uncle wants to get his hands on. He has been trying to persuade her to marry a crony of his, the Earl of Bainbridge, who is old enough to be her father and then some, but she refuses adamantly; and with four weeks to go until her birthday, Bainbridge kidnaps her with the intention of marrying her at Gretna Green and then doing away with her after he’s got control of her money.
Violet – Letty – is, fortunately, not one to give up easily, and manages to escape and elude her captors, running deep into the woods and then stumbling out and in front of a man on horseback before she passes out.
On his way back from the local inn late one night, a slightly inebriated Jack – who is, in fact, the Earl of Markham, but who has no use for his title – is startled when a bedraggled young woman darts into the path of his horse. She’s in a bad way; her hands are bound and she’s bruised and shaking with the cold, so Jack takes her up in front of him and takes her back to Markham Manor where he quickly marshalls his brothers into service. His youngest brother, Joe, is the next best thing to a physician they have; he wants to study medicine but Jack cannot afford to send him to university, so instead Joe reads every medical text he can get his hands on. Between the four of them, they tend to the young woman’s injuries and look after her assiduously for the next few days while her life hangs in the balance.
When Letty starts to recover, she is confused and naturally wary of the fact that she is in a strange house and that she doesn’t know the men who have been taking care of her, so she is selective about what she tells them. But as she comes to realise that they mean her no harm – and are not in league with her uncle – she tells them the truth; that she needs to stay hidden until her birthday. Jack and his brothers swear to protect her until she can safely return to London.
Thanks to the underhand dealings and debauched lifestyle of their late father, grandfather and other predecessors, the Warriners are widely disliked and not trusted; even though Jack, Jamie, Jacob and Joe (yes, I admit I rolled my eyes a bit at all the ‘J’ names) are working hard to keep an admittedly ramshackle roof over their heads and support themselves by their labours, old wounds run deep and the local villagers refuse to do business with them.
Jack is proud, reliable and hard-working, which makes him a little unusual in the ranks of historical romance heroes; he’s an earl who does backbreaking work and doesn’t mind getting more than his hands dirty and his boots wet when it comes to rescuing stupid sheep from the mire. He can’t afford to become distracted by someone like Letty, no matter how lovely she may be. She’s a diamond of the first water and certainly not for the likes of him… yet he can’t help being fascinated by her.
Jack isn’t like any other man Letty has ever met. She is well aware that society regards her as a pretty face and a large pile of money rather than an actual person, and the longer she spends holed up with Jack and his brothers, the more of a disconnect she feels between herself – the real Letty – and Violet, the darling of society. She doesn’t want one of the many gentlemen falling over themselves to charm Violet out of her money, she wants to be Letty, a real person who can live a real life and use her wealth to do some good in the world. She’s strongly drawn to Jack, to this honourable, kind man who has been a more or less a father to his younger brothers and works tirelessly to provide stability for them. She senses he is attracted to her, too, but is confused by his blow hot/blow cold attitude; one minute he’s kissing her passionately and the next he’s avoiding her. Letty knows what she wants, and what she wants is Jack – but he keeps her at a distance, insisting that an impoverished country farmer with nothing but a dilapidated house and a family name steeped in infamy is not good enough for her and is secretly worried that any relationship between them would sour, as happened with his parents.
I’m not a fan of the “I am not worthy!” trope in romance, which is one of the niggles I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Even if there are good reasons a relationship isn’t a good idea, I still find it somewhat patronising when one character tells another that they don’t know their own mind. Another niggle is the way in which Letty, who probably doesn’t know one end of a feather duster from another, suddenly becomes a domestic goddess (although not in the kitchen to start with) cleaning all the long-neglected, dusty nooks and crannies with gusto, moving heavy furniture and generally doing a Snow White on her four not-dwarves.
Those things apart, however, A Warriner to Protect Her is another thoroughly enjoyable historical romance from this talented author. She keeps the romantic and sexual tension between Letty and Jack simmering along nicely, and the other real highlight of the book is the relationship between the four brothers, who are clearly devoted to one another. I particularly liked the rather enigmatic Jamie (whose book is up next), a former soldier and spy who was injured in the war and whose gruff manner hides a kind and, I suspect, romantic, soul. Their close-knit, protectiveness is perfectly summed up by the author: When you mess with one Warriner, you mess with us all.
It’s a great start to the series, and I’m looking forward to more.