Dutiful daughter Arabella Shelley is bitterly unhappy at home with her tyrannical father. Both her sisters have run away and the future looks bleak until handsome Rafe Calne, Viscount Hadleigh, sweeps her off her feet. A few weeks, later pregnant and abandoned, Bella sets out to force Viscount Hadleigh to do the right thing. And he does – the problem is, it isn’t the viscount she had been expecting…
In my opinion, Louise Allen is one of the consistently good authors in the Harlequin Historical stable, so I will usually consider buying her books as they come out. Last year, I think it was, I got a Kindle version of this title, but haven’t got around to reading it; so when I saw it was on my library’s digital audio service, I thought I’d give it a listen.
With audiobooks, of course the choice of narrator is crucial as they can make or break the book. Here it’s Jilly Bond, and I thought she was pretty good. Her voices for the male characters didn’t make me cringe and she was especially good as the dutiful and insecure heroine, Arabella Shelley.
I believe this is the second in the series of books about the Shelley sisters, and although I haven’t read or listened to the others, I don’t think you have to do that in order to enjoy this one.
Arabella and her two sisters live with their tyrannical father, a vicar, who expects them to remain unmarried and to look after him in his old age. Her other sisters have run away from home, leaving Arabella to bear the brunt of her father’s displeasure and despotism. Desperate to escape herself, she is blinded by the good looks and charm of Rafe, Viscount Hadleigh – and naïvely believes his protestations of love and promise of marriage. He seduces her and leaves her pregnant.
A few weeks later, Arabella sneaks away from the vicarage and makes her way to Hadleigh’s estate. Arriving tired, cold and hungry, she confronts her seducer – only to discover that the man she thinks is Rafe is actually his brother, Elliott, Rafe having died a few days earlier.
Unlike his brother, Elliott has a strong sense of honour, and feels he must do right by Arabella in order to atone for his brother’s irresponsibility and to bring up her child – if it is a son – as his heir.
The story is unoriginal, but well-told and I thought the author handled the conflicting emotions of the hero and heroine very well indeed. Both Elliott and Arabella are so intent on doing what they perceive their duty by each other to the extent that each fails to realise that the notion of doing one’s duty – whether in the bedroom or the breakfast-room isn’t going to be enough to make their marriage work.
Arabella’s lack of self-confidence in her ability to satisfy her husband in bed is quite natural given her experience with Rafe, who was not only manipulative, but cruel; and I liked that this part of the story wasn’t allowed to drag on for too long. Arabella and Elliott begin to feel comfortable with each other and to work as a team over improvements to the estate; and Elliott begins to realise that he has married a woman who is more than capable of maintaining her position as his viscountess. But the rot begins to set in when Elliott starts to resent the fact that, should Arabella’s baby be a boy, Rafe’s son will inherit his title and estate rather than a son of his own. He knows his feelings do him no credit and actually I thought this was very realistic; Elliot is not perfect, but a man struggling to do the right thing. He is open with Arabella about his feelings – for the most part, lack of communication is not an issue between them – but even so, he cannot forgive himself for feeling as he does. But despite his misgivings, he is there for Arabella when she needs him, and surprises himself when he discovers the love he has for the child once it’s born.
Of course, all is eventually worked through and Arabella and Elliott get their HEA, including, right at the end, the reappearance of one of Arabella’s long-lost sisters.
I thought this was a decently-written story, which, while predictable in outcome, had depth to it in terms of the way it dealt with some of the more difficult emotional aspects of the narrative. The fact of Arabella’s previous relationship with the hero’s brother was not put easily aside, but wasn’t made so much of it that it was difficult to reconcile with the eventual HEA. And I liked that Allen didn’t shy away from showing Elliott in a less than heroic light over his feelings about the baby.
All in all, I liked the story and I thought that the chosen narrator did a very good job. I would certainly not be averse to listening to more audiobooks read by Jilly Bond.