Wanted, A Gentleman by K.J. Charles

wanted-a-gentleman

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By the good offices of Riptide Publishing
KJ Charles’s new Entertainment

WANTED, A GENTLEMAN
Or, Virtue Over-Rated

the grand romance of

Mr. Martin St. Vincent . . . a Merchant with a Mission, also a Problem
Mr. Theodore Swann . . . a humble Scribbler and Advertiser for Love

Act the First:

the offices of the Matrimonial Advertiser, London
where Lonely Hearts may seek one another for the cost of a shilling

Act the Second:

a Pursuit to Gretna Green (or thereabouts)

featuring

a speedy Carriage
sundry rustic Inns
a private Bed-chamber
***
In the course of which are presented

Romance, Revenge, and Redemption
Deceptions, Discoveries, and Desires

the particulars of which are too numerous to impart

Rating: B+

This new novella from the pen of K.J. Charles is a Regency Era road-trip undertaken in order to foil the elopement of an heiress and her unsuitable beau.

The couple has been corresponding secretly by placing messages in the pages of the Matrimonial Advertiser, a news-sheet dedicated to publishing what we would today call Lonely Hearts advertisements, and run by Mr. Theodore Swann, a jobbing writer who owns and runs the paper as well as scribbling romantic novels on the side.

Into his dingy City office one day, bursts Mr. Martin St. Vincent, a well-built, well-dressed and obviously well to-do black man, who is trying to discover the identity of the man who has been corresponding with the seventeen year-old daughter of his former owner. He’s blunt and not in the mood for humour, small-talk or any of Theo’s sales patter – and quickly cuts to the chase by asking Theo to put a price on his assistance.

Before he can discover the man’s identity however, the young lady elopes with her swain, and the family turns to Martin for help. A former slave, his relationship to the Conroys – who, by the standards of the day treated him well – is a difficult one, but he used to play with the young woman when she was a child and read her stories… and it’s for her sake that he agrees to try to find her and bring her home safely.

Realising he’ll need help – and having been reluctantly impressed with Theo’s quick wits and sharp tongue (among other things) – Martin asks Theo to go with him – and after they have agreed on a large fee, Theo agrees.

This is a novella of some 150 pages, but K.J Charles does such a superb job with the characterisation of her two principals and adds such depth to their personalities and stories that I came away from the novella feeing – almost – as though I’d read a full-length novel. There’s a spark of attraction between the two men from the start, and this builds gradually as they travel and get to know each other better, but what is so wonderful is the way the relationship between them grows alongside it. Martin is a former slave, and while he doesn’t feel he owes anything to his former master, he can’t help resenting the fact that he has been very lucky when compared to so many others:

“I was kept in the household, and freed on such generous terms that I have been able to prosper ever since, and how can I resent that?”

“That sounds to me the kind of generosity that could kill a man.”

“It is. It sticks in my throat like thistles, it chokes me.”

And Theo gets it. He sees Martin as a person, he believes he’s entitled to be angry:

“I, uh, feel strongly about gratitude. Forced gratitude, I mean, the kind piled on your debt as added interest. To be ground underfoot and then told to be thankful the foot was not heavier – I hate it.”

Their conversations are insightful and often humorous, showcasing many of the things I enjoy so much about this author’s work. Her research is impeccable and I always like the way she doesn’t just gloss over the social issues of the day. There wree moves towards abolition in England at this time, but there were still many people making money out of slavery; there was serious social inequality and no safety net for those who couldn’t afford even the most basic of life’s necessities; yet all these issues are addressed in a way that is not preachy or dry history lesson. Instead they arise naturally out of the direction taken by the story, the lives of the characters and the situations in which they live.

Both protagonists are attractive, likeable characters, although Theo is probably the more well-developed of the two, with a bit more light and shade to his persona. He’s quick witted, devious and sarcastic; and I really liked that his lady novelist alter-ego, Dorothea Swann, gives Ms. Charles the opportunity to make a few tongue-in-cheek observations about romantic fiction but also allows Theo to save the day.

Wanted, A Gentleman is beautifully written, the dialogue sparkles and Theo and Martin simply charmed me.

My only complaint is that the book ended too quickly.

Resisting Miss Merryweather (Baleful Godmother #2) by Emily Larkin

resisting-miss-merryweather

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

She sees things no one else does…

Sir Barnaby Ware made a mistake two and a half years ago. A massive mistake. The sort of mistake that can never be atoned for.

He knows himself to be irredeemable, but the captivating and unconventional Miss Merryweather is determined to prove him wrong…

The daughter of a dancing master and a noblewoman, Miss Merryweather had an unusual upbringing. She sees things no one else sees—and she says things no one else says.

Sir Barnaby knows he’s the villain in this piece, but Miss Merryweather thinks he’s the hero—and she is damnably hard to resist…

Rating: B

I thoroughly enjoyed Unmasking Miss Appleby, the first book in Emily Larkin’s new Baleful Godmother series, and was curious about the secondary character of Sir Barnaby Ware, whom we learned had previously been the best friend of that book’s hero, Marcus, the Earl of Cosgrove. A couple of years earlier, Barnaby betrayed his friend in the worst way possible, by committing adultery with Marcus’ beautiful but manipulative wife. The two men had previously been like brothers, and it seemed that their friendship was irrevocably broken.

More than a year has passed since the events of the last book, and Barnaby is on his way to Marcus’ Devonshire estate, having accepted an invitation from his former friend and his new wife, who have recently become parents for the first time. Barnaby is understandably anxious; the last time he and Marcus met, things between them were barely civil, and he keeps telling himself this visit is not a good idea and that he should turn back. He is about to do that when he sees a young woman walking ahead of him; and when he stops to talk to her, discovers she is a friend of Marcus’ wife, also staying at Woodhuish Abbey. She asks Barnaby to escort her back there, and, as a gentleman, he can’t refuse, so now there is no question of retreat.

Anne Merryweather is Charlotte’s – now the Countess of Cosgrove – cousin, and like Charlotte, will be gifted with the magical ability of her choice upon her twenty-fifth birthday, which is only a few days away. But even without that, she has an uncanny facility for reading people and seeing beyond what someone says to the truth that lies behind their words. She knows what happened between Marcus and Barnaby, and knows that Barnaby is still eaten up with guilt and believes he doesn’t deserve forgiveness. But the lovely, open-hearted Miss Merryweather – Merry to her friends – is determined to prove him wrong.

While the romance develops over just a few days, the author creates a genuinely strong connection between Barnaby and Merry, who is able to see past his guilt and self-loathing to the kind, compassionate man that he truly is. He has been resisting his attraction to her because of his belief that he’s not worthy of her, but when they are both trapped underground following a trip to explore some local caves, Barnaby steps up to the plate to become the man that Merry needs him to be.

Resisting Miss Merryweather is a lovely story of forgiveness and redemption, showing that’s it’s just as important to be able to forgive oneself as it is to obtain the forgiveness of others. While this is a novella, it doesn’t lack depth; the shame and despair Barnaby feels over his past actions is palpable, and the growing attraction between him and Merry is nicely done. The relationship between Barnaby and Marcus is very-well written, too – their interactions are infused with warmth despite the issues lying between them, and I liked the emphasis placed on going forward rather than looking back, the idea of Barnaby becoming an even better friend in the days to come.

The book can be read as a standalone, but works best as a companion piece to Unmasking Miss Appleby.

Sweetest Regret (novella) by Meredith Duran

sweetest-regret

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At a house party in the countryside, the joyful spirit of the Christmas season threatens to sweep Georgiana Trent under the mistletoe—and back into the arms of the dashing rogue who broke her heart two years ago. Little does she know that Lucas Godwin has no intention of leaving until he has reclaimed her as his own.

This novella was originally published in 2015 as part of the anthology What Happens Under the Mistletoe.

Rating: B-

An engaging, readable novella, Sweetest Regret tells the story of lovers reunited at Christmas.  Georgina Trent, daughter of the influential diplomat, Sir Philip Trent, is used to acting as her father’s hostess, but is annoyed when he announces he has to travel to Constantinople immediately, leaving her with a half-dozen house-guests to deal with until Boxing Day.  To make things worse, he tells her that one of the guests has stolen an important letter, he wants Georgina to find it and he has summoned Lucas Goodwin, one of his most able subordinates, to help her.

Georgina is infuriated.  Not only is her father leaving her in the lurch, he is throwing her into the orbit of the man who broke her heart two years ago.  While living in Munich with her father, Georgina met Lucas who was not only handsome and charming, but someone she could talk to and whom she felt was genuinely interested in her opinions.  They spent a fair amount of time together until one day, she discovered that he had up and left for a posting in Paris without so much as a goodbye.  Devastated, Georgina concluded she had been silly for thinking that a man like Lucas would be interested in an unassuming, ordinary-looking woman such as she, and picked up the threads of her old life.

Lucas is every bit as annoyed to have been summoned to Harlboro Hall as Georgina is to have him there.  Their reunion doesn’t get off to the best of starts, but as they search for the missing letter, they discover that the pull of attraction between them has never really gone away, and eventually find out exactly what led to their parting two years earlier.

This novella is well-written and the fact that there is a pre-existing relationship between the two principals means that the love story doesn’t feel rushed.  Ms. Duran does a very good job in showing the level of hurt and sadness that lies between them, and in describing Georgina’s life as being secondary to her father’s career and her deep-seated frustrations at the way he has treated her over the years. And Lucas gets an equally well fleshed-out backstory; he is the son of a scandalous match between the son of an earl and the coachman’s daughter, so he has had to work doubly hard to prove himself and get to where he is in his profession.   Both are likeable, attractive characters that are easy to root for, and I liked the way Lucas is prepared to put everything on the line for the woman he loves.

Other reviewers have pointed out the huge howler in the story;  we’re told that a couple of characters have gone out looking for a Christmas tree at 5.45am, which means they’d be stumbling about in darkness for a couple of hours, as it’s never light here until much before 8am in the latter part of December.  There are a few others, too, one being that Sir Philip is referred to as “Sir Trent” – which is a big no-no; a knight or baronet is always “Sir firstname”.   Another is the name of Georgina’s home – Harboro Hall – just doesn’t look like an English place name.  Harborough would be more likely.

Those errors apart, Sweetest Regret is an enjoyable seasonal novella and while not the author’s best work is well worth a look if you’ve got an hour to spare.

A Match Made in Mistletoe by Anna Campbell

a-match-made-in-mistletoe

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A mistletoe wish…
All her life, Serena Talbot has been in love with the handsome boy next door, Sir Paul Garside. She always eagerly looks forward to Paul’s visit to her family over the Festive Season, even if he usually brings along his dark, sardonic friend Lord Hallam. This year, Serena is determined that Paul’s kiss under the mistletoe will lead to a proposal. Even if she has to enlist every ounce of Christmas magic she can get her hands on to make that happen.

But the mistletoe gets it wrong!
When Serena slips a sprig of mistletoe from the village kissing bough under her pillow, it’s not Paul who turns up in her dreams as the man she’s going to marry, but brooding, intense, annoying Giles Farraday, Marquess of Hallam. Still more annoying, once everyone arrives for the annual Christmas house party, she can’t stop watching Giles, and thinking about Giles. And kissing Giles, whether there’s mistletoe about or not. Now Paul wants to marry her, and Giles wants to seduce her–and Serena has a bone to pick with the old wives who came up with all this superstitious nonsense in the first place.

A Christmas of confusion lies ahead! Will mistletoe magic lead the way to a happy ending?

Rating: B

Fans of Anna Campbell’s have been treated to a regular diet of new stories from her over the last year or so in the form of a series of novellas (Dashing Widows) and a couple of standalones.  Her writing is extremely assured, warm and intelligent; and she has the knack of creating the most delicious romantic tension between her couples, something I always look for and appreciate.  She has produced a novella for Christmas the last couple of years, and having enjoyed those, I eagerly picked up this year’s A Match Made in Mistletoe, the story of a young woman who comes to realise that the man of her dreams might not actually be the man for her.

Serena Talbot has been in love with Paul Garside for as long as she can remember, and is eagerly looking forward to the day when he will realise he feels the same way and ask her to be his wife. Like his friend Giles Farraday, the Marquess of Hallam, Paul is a regular visitor to the Talbot’s home; in fact, he and Giles spent most of their school holidays there, especially after Giles was orphaned at the age of eight.  Now in their twenties, the two young men have been on the town for a number of years, and there’s no question that they are a pair of very eligible bachelors.  Paul’s golden good-looks and his easy going manner make him a firm favourite with the ladies, although Serena is rather surprised to learn that it’s the darkly brooding Giles who is the most sought after. (Although to those of us who inhabit Romancelandia, this comes as no surprise!) As a child he was dark, swarthy and gangly and Serena has never quite been able to divorce the image of the boy from the man.

But that doesn’t matter. Paul – and Giles – are expected to arrive for the Christmas holiday, along with numerous family members and other friends, and Serena is convinced that this is finally going to be THE Christmas, the one where Paul declares himself and makes her dreams come true.  And it certainly seems that is going to be the case.  Paul makes his intentions perfectly clear – but strangely, it’s not his touch or his voice that is making her stomach flutter and her heart beat faster, but those of his saturnine friend.  How can that be possible?  How can Serena be in love with one man while another man’s kisses fire her blood and cause her to lose her wits?

The novella makes use of a couple of tropes I always enjoy; the besotted hero and long-time-friends-who-fall-in-love. Giles has loved Serena for years, but knowing of her preference for Paul, never thought he stood a chance with her and so cultivated an air of detachment, simply as a matter of self-preservation.  While he always looks forward to Christmases with the Talbot family – which are  full of love, fun and laughter – this year he anticipates heartbreak, as Paul has finally decided he’s ready to settle down and propose to Serena.  My favourite part of the friends-falling-in-love trope is that moment when they start to see each other through new eyes; and Serena’s dawning realisation – that she finally sees Giles and, moreover, likes what she sees and what she has come to know of the man he is inside – is superbly realised.

The idea that Giles would offer to teach Serena about kissing so that she will know what to do with Paul is a rather flimsy plot device, but Ms. Campbell has written Giles’ longing for Serena and the heat of the sexual tension between the couple so well that it’s easy to forgive the contrivance and just enjoy those sensually romantic moments.  But that’s not to say there’s nothing of substance in the story; there’s the real sense that we’re watching Serena mature before our eyes as she starts to see the difference between a girlish infatuation and real love and desire – and there’s a degree of angst in the sudden strain that their rivalry places on the relationship between Giles and Paul.  I also very much appreciated that Serena has a loving and very sensible mother – something that is quite rare in romances, as parents are often estranged, eccentric or otherwise no good at being there for their offspring.

Serena and Giles are attractive, well-rounded characters and their interactions are a delight to read.  While Serena may be naïve to begin with, she’s refreshingly honest with herself about her changing feelings, and Giles is a gorgeous hero; one whose life has been blighted by loss and who has learned to keep his feelings hidden – even as he longs to be known and loved.

Because the principals have known each other for years, their romance is believable and doesn’t feel rushed – plus Ms Campbell delays the seemingly obligatory sex scene until the epilogue, so it doesn’t feel unnaturally shoe-horned into the main story.  I’m not a big fan of novellas as a rule, but A Match Made is Mistletoe is one I’d definitely recommend if you have an hour or so to spare during the festive season.

Miss Goodhue Lives for a Night (Winner Takes All #2.5) by Kate Noble

miss-goodhue

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Cecilia Goodhue is a schoolteacher with a past, living with her sister and her husband in a tiny English village. Resigned to a quiet life, Cecilia is surprised when she finds out that her young cousin has run off with a man of no means.

Cecilia had once been a teenaged girl who also fell for a young man’s charms—only to be devastated by his betrayal. Determined to not let her cousin meet the same fate, she heads off to London to but is shocked when her investigation leads her right to the front door of the very man who broke her heart: Theo Hudson.

Together, they reluctantly embark on finding her cousin and returning her to her family. During their searching in London, it soon becomes clear that they both remember their short-lived romance differently and perhaps now, years later, they have a fresh chance at love.

Rating: C+

This novella is loosely connected to the author’s current Winner Takes All series by virtue of the fact the principal characters from the previous two novels make cameo appearances, but it can be read as a standalone.

Miss Cecilia Goodhue is a spinster schoolteacher of twenty-six years of age, who lives in the village of Helmsley (the home town of John Turner) with her sister, who is married to the local vicar.  Cecilia  hails originally from Manchester, but following her – aborted – elopement with Mr Theo Hudson a decade earlier, had to move away because of the gossip and because she didn’t want the scandal to forever dog the rest of her family.  Living on her sister’s charity in Leicestershire, Cecilia has given up all hope of marriage and children; she has enough money to be able to live on her own, but that is not the done thing, so she is stuck living with her sister and putting up with the vicar’s constant needling about how lucky she is that they were prepared to take her in considering that she is a ruined woman.

Cecilia reflects with some asperity that she is not exactly ruined; her father and Theo’s uncle discovered them before they got to the good part 😉

When a letter from Cecilia’s seventeen-year-old cousin Eleanor arrives, announcing that she is running off with a soldier to get married, Cecilia immediately takes it upon herself to go to London after her.  It’s clear that she is reminded of her own actions at that age and of the effect it has had on her life and wants to prevent the same thing happening to her cousin.

Mrs. John Turner arranges her to meet the Earl of Ashby in London, and tells Cecilia that he will be able to help her.  But upon her arrival at the Earl’s house, she is greeted by none other than Theo Hudson, whom she has not seen for ten years.   Theo is a lawyer in the firm used by the Earl, and he has been called there specifically to help with the search for Cecilia’s cousin.

She is surprised at the animosity she can feel coming from Theo, and thinks it’s a bit much seeing as he abandoned her.  But needs must, and she can’t afford to waste any time in her search.  For his part, Theo is surprised to see the girl he had loved, and annoyed at himself for finding her attractive, considering that she abandoned him.

This is a very quick read, and while the tone is light-hearted overall, Ms. Noble makes some good points about how one ill-judged action and the ensuing gossip could have such a detrimental effect on a young woman’s life, while a man could just get on with his life as if nothing had happened.  Theo and Cecilia naturally realise they never fell out of love with each other, and Theo admits that he so readily believed what his uncle told him in order to get him away from her because of his own lack of trust and self-esteem.  But all this happens in the course of a single day, and I found the idea of a couple who hadn’t seen each other for ten years falling back into each other’s arms so quickly and easily to be rather unbelievable.  Both of them admit that they were different people a decade ago and that perhaps they didn’t know each other all that well, so they can hardly have rectified that lack of knowledge in less than twenty-four hours.

Miss Goodhue Lives for a Night is short and sweet, but ultimately a bit insubstantial.

Once Upon a Moonlit Night (Maiden Lane #10.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt

once upon a moonlit night
This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Hippolyta Royle is running for her life. Pursued by hounds on a cold rainy night, the heiress flags down a passing carriage and throws herself at the mercy of the coach’s occupant. Whoever this handsome traveler may be, he is her only hope to escape a terrible fate. But should he agree to escort her to safety, he’s in for much more than he bargained for . . .

At first Matthew Mortimer doesn’t believe Hippolyta’s story, that she’s a fabulously wealthy heiress who’s been kidnapped. He assumes she’s a beggar, an actress, or worse. But once his new travel companion washes the mud from her surprisingly lovely face, and they share a breathtaking kiss, there is no turning back . . .

Rating:B-

Readers of Duke of Sin, the recently released tenth book in Elizabeth Hoyt’s hugely popular Maiden Lane series will recall that one of the many nefarious plots engineered by the Machiavellian Duke of Montgomery was the kidnapping of Miss Hippolyta Royle, the wealthiest heiress in England. In that book, she was freed by the Duke’s housekeeper, the enterprising Bridget Crumb, who helped her to escape onto the moors – and then we heard nothing more of her. I admit, that loose plot-thread did seem rather strange, but fortunately, anyone wondering what happened to Miss Royle after she fled Ainsdale Castle can put their minds at rest, as her fate is revealed in the novella, Once Upon a Moonlit Night.

She stumbles into the path of an oncoming carriage, which – fortunately – stops so that its angry occupant can ask her what the hell she’s playing at. Dirty, bedraggled and smelling of sheep rather than roses, Hippolyta’s assertion that she is a wealthy heiress is promptly dismissed by Matthew Mortimer, explorer, cartographer and newly minted but improverished Earl of Paxton. He’s tired from his journey home from the Indian Ocean, disgruntled because he had to make it at all and in no mood to humour a down-on-her-luck actress/thief/tart.

The first part of the novella is a road-trip romance in which the two protagonists get off on completely the wrong foot but, during the course of a few days, come to realise that perhaps there is more to the other than meets the eye. The sparks fly from the get-go and the air between them crackles with sexual tension, even though Matthew is pretty abrasive for the first part of the journey and makes no bones about the fact that he believes Hippolyta to be a whore. By the second day, however, they really start talking to each other and he starts to wonder if perhaps he’s misjudged her. But before he can really make his mind up, the two of them are discovered in the yard of a coaching inn by her father who is outraged at the idea that his daughter has spent several days unchaperoned with a man, leaving Matthew with little option but to ask for her hand.

The story then fast-forwards a couple of weeks to the hasty wedding – and the wedding night – and the reappearance of a figure from Hippolyta’s past who threatens to expose a buried family secret (that isn’t much of a secret to anyone who has read Duke of Sin) which could ruin her in society.

Once Upon a Moonlit Night is an entertaining, quick read that is as well-written as one would expect from this author, but it does suffer from “novella-itis” in that it feels rather rushed, especially in the second half. The central characters are reasonably well drawn, and while Matthew is a bit of a grouch to start with, in his favour, he’s the type of hero who, once he realises what he wants, doesn’t dither or deny, he goes for it. But I couldn’t quite work out what happened to Hippolyta, who has been an intriguing, exotic figure in the earlier books in which she has appeared. She begins this tale as spirited and able to give as good as she gets, but then turns into a wimpy damsel in distress immediately after her wedding night. She receives a blackmail note and just runs off instead of having a simple conversation with Matthew, and I thoroughly disliked the use of such an obvious contrivance to create dramatic tension.

Ultimately, this is a story of two … not quite halves. The first, in which the author develops the relationship between Hipployta and Matthew and skilfully brings the sexual attraction between them to the boil gets a B, but the second, which is a bit of a let-down, gets a C, hence my overall grade. I enjoyed the novella and I’m glad Ms. Hoyt took the opportunity to tie up the loose ends of Hippolyta’s story, but I think it needed a bit more time and space in which to play out.

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A Gentleman Never Tells (Essex Sisters #4.5) by Eloisa James

a gentleman never tells
This title is available to purchase from Amazon.

Eighteen months ago, Lizzie Troutt’s husband died in his mistress’s bed, leaving her determined to never marry again . . . and unfortunately virginal.

Eighteen years ago (give or take a few) the Honorable Oliver Berwick blackened his own soul, leaving him hardened and resolutely single.

When the chance for redemption in the form of a country house party invitation comes his way, Oliver is determined to prove himself a gentleman.

Until he breaks all the codes of gentlemanly behaviour . . . once again.

Rating:B

This charming novella is loosely related to Eloisa James’ Essex Sisters series by virtue of the fact that the heroine’s sister is friends with Josie, Countess of Mayne. The central romance develops quickly – over the space of a couple of days – but it’s well done, with plenty of humour and crackling chemistry between the two leads which enables the reader to buy into this whirlwind courtship without the need for the suspension of too much disbelief.

Lizzie, Lady Troutt has been a widow for just over eighteen months. Not unusually for the time, her father chose her husband for her and chose badly; Adrian Troutt only wanted Lizzie’s money so that he could continue to live with his long-term mistress. Poor Lizzie had no idea of that until her wedding day, when her new husband unceremoniously dumped her at his mother’s home, told Lizzie to look after her and waved goodbye. Hurt and disillusioned, Lizzie ran back to her father – who sent her right back and basically told her to get on with it.

Adrian’s unorthodox living arrangements were widely known, which naturally made Lizzie into a figure of fun or pity, and his death ‘on the job’ only served to increase her notoriety. In the year and a half since his death, all Lizzie has wanted to do is to fade into the background, stay at home and read her beloved books.

Her older, happily married sister Cat, Lady Windingham, is worried about her, though. Lizzie used to be vibrant and quick-witted but has become entirely self-effacing and reclusive; she seems to be holding herself responsible for her late husband’s faults, and Cat wants to shake her out of her gloom. She extracts a promise from Lizzie to attend the house-party she and her husband are holding and hopes to find a way to bring Lizzie out of her shell.

Oliver Berwick still feels guilty over some youthful indiscretions that caused hurt to a couple of young women in society. When the opportunity to offer both ladies an apology presents itself, he grabs it, accompanying his fifteen year-old niece (and ward) to Lady Windingham’s houseparty. Cat makes Oliver very welcome, but Lizzie is quiet and aloof, making a reluctant appearance at the dinner table that first evening and skipping breakfast the next day, simply to avoid meeting him again. Oliver is funny, charming and far too handsome for Lizzie’s peace of mind; and besides, she doesn’t want a man. Widowhood comes with certain benefits, one of which is not having to be subject to the dictates of any man ever again, even a gorgeous, amusing and surprisingly straightforward one.

Both Lizzie and Oliver are such well-rounded, engaging characters, that it’s not hard to get to know them quickly and to feel that they’re part of a longer story. It’s easy to understand what has driven Lizzie to want to hide herself away and to sympathise with her insecurities; and it’s clear that Oliver has grown up to be a conscientious, caring man. He is sweetly smitten with Lizzie from the start and determined to coax her out of herself and show her that not all men are selfish bastards. Lizzie is wary and at first wants nothing more than to hide away; but – and here I thoroughly applaud the author – Lizzie starts to realise ON HER OWN that she is doing herself down by dressing in drab clothes and living vicariously through the books she loves. I loved watching her succumbing to the warmth of Oliver’s personality and his gentle teasing, but I also loved that she was finally standing up for herself and discovering the women she was supposed to be.

In spite of the short page count, Ms. James manages to create a genuine connection between her central couple and to add in some swiftly but ably drawn secondary characters, too. A Gentleman Never Tells is a fun, quick read that can be enjoyed by fans as well as those new to the author’s work.

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