Redeeming the Roguish Rake by Liz Tyner

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The scoundrel of Society
…has compromised the Vicar’s daughter!

When scandalous Fenton Foxworthy is beaten and left for dead, he’s rescued by demure vicar’s daughter Rebecca Whitelow. Fox is a cynical rake whose outrageous propositions are the talk of the ton—but his injuries are so great that Rebecca mistakes him for the new village Vicar! Too late, Rebecca realises her error…she’s been compromised into a hasty marriage!

Rating: D+

Liz Tyner’s Redeeming the Roguish Rake treads the well-worn path of rakish hero redeemed by love – in this case, the love of a vicar’s daughter.  It’s a trope I generally enjoy, as it’s always fun to watch the world-weary hero falling head-over-heels for the last woman he’d ever have expected to fall for, and the proper young lady entertaining improper thoughts about a man she should, by rights, despise.  The book gets off to a strong start when our hero, Fenton Foxworthy, a devil-may-care young man who has a smirk and a glib remark for everyone and a penchant for proposing to other men’s wives, is beaten up and left for dead while on a journey into the country to visit his father.  Luckily for him, he is found by the daughter of the local vicar who arranges for him to be taken to the vicarage where she can tend him.

Fox’s injuries are serious.  The author never goes into specific detail, other than to tell us that his face has been particularly badly beaten, to such an extent that when he initially recovers consciousness, it’s difficult for him to speak because his jaw is so painful.  His inability to tell the vicar and his daughter who he is leads to a misapprehension when they assume Fox must be the new vicar who is coming to take over the parish at the behest of the earl (Fox’s father).  The Reverend Whitelow is advancing in years and is being encouraged to take a pension, and knowing that a younger man is coming to replace him, has hopes that the new vicar will marry Rebecca and ensure her future comfort and safety.

It’s some time before Fox can speak, and the author instead treats us to his inner monologue, which is often quite funny, as he listens to the vicar and Rebecca completely misconstruing his attempts at communication.  In the end, he decides to give up and go along with their supposition that he’s a vicar – they’ll find out the truth soon enough and he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.


A Warriner to Tempt Her (Wild Warriners #3) by Virginia Heath

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A shy innocent

She’s wary of all men.

In this The Wild Warriners story, shy Lady Isabella Beaumont is perfectly happy to stay in the background and let her sister get all the attention from handsome suitors following a shocking incident. However working with Dr Joseph Warriner to help the sick and needy pushes her closer to a man than she’s ever been before. Is this a man worth trusting with her deepest of desires..?

Rating: A-

Shall we take a moment or three to appreciate that cover? *sigh*

In the three years or so that she’s been a published author, Virginia Heath has gone from strength to strength, having produced coming up for ten novels, all of which I’ve read, enjoyed and rated highly.  A Warriner to Tempt Her, the third book in her Wild Warriners series, takes place around five years after the events of A Warriner to Rescue Her, and in it, we find Joseph – the third of the Warriner brothers – qualified as a doctor and working in Retford, not too far from the family home.

Readers of the previous books in the series will recall that the brothers – the eldest of whom is the Earl of Markham – haven’t had an easy time of it.  Thanks to their father and grandfather, who ran up debts, drank, gambled and chased skirt to excess, the current generation – while nothing like their debauched forebears – has been very much tarred with the same brush, and the locals are wary and keep their distance.  In spite of the family’s tarnished name, however, Joe is kept busy treating Retford’s less well-off denizens, the ones who can’t afford the services of the pompous – and old-fashioned – Dr. Bentley.  Joe is forward-thinking, dedicated, hard-working…  and a bit of a romantic at heart; he is nursing a crush on the beautiful Lady Clarissa Beaumont, eldest daughter of the Earl of Braxton, even though he knows he has no chance with her whatsoever and has to content himself with worshipping her from afar.

Clarissa is an Incomparable whose blonde curls and sparkling blue eyes ensure she is fêted wherever she goes, but her sister Lady Isabella is a different matter entirely.  Just as lovely, but dark where Clarissa is fair, Isabella is a bit of an enigma, and in spite of himself, Joe is intrigued. They have crossed paths occasionally at the children’s home run by the Countess of Markham (Joe’s sister-in-law), where Isabella volunteers in the infirmary, but Joe finds her awkward, standoffish and sometimes outright rude.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance

The Husband Hunter’s Guide to London by Kate Moore

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The daughter of a British intelligence agent, Jane Fawkener has spent most of her life in exotic lands abroad, not flirting her way to matrimony among the ton. So when her father disappears and is presumed dead, she’s perplexed as to why he’s arranged for her to receive a copy of The Husband Hunter’s Guide to London. Convinced he has hidden a covert message for her within its pages, Jane embarks on a “husband hunt” with an altogether different aim. But can she fool the government escort who’s following her every move—a dangerously seductive man for whom rules are clearly meant to be broken.

Rating: B-

I remember reading some of Kate Moore’s recently republished Signet Regencies and enjoying them, so I was pleased when I saw that she had a new book coming out and eagerly picked it up for review.  The Husband Hunter’s Guide to London is an entertaining and well-written novel featuring two likeable principals a gently moving sweet romance and an engaging, espionage-based plotline.

Jane Fawkener has spent much of her life living in the Middle East with her father, who works as a merchant and trader but whom she has for some time suspected is really a spy for the British government.  When George Fawkener goes missing and is presumed dead, Jane is immediately sent to England courtesy of the Foreign Office.  In London, she is given the only two things Fawkener left her; a small blue book entitled The Husband Hunter’s Guide to London and the sum of two hundred pounds, to tide her over until she finds herself a spouse.  Jane is sure her father is alive and tries to insist that the government mounts a search for him; but comes up against a brick-wall – the Foreign Office insists her father is dead and Jane must prepare to attend a ceremony at which the King will award him a posthumous knighthood for services rendered.  To help her to prepare for the occasion – an occasion about which Jane couldn’t care less – she is assigned a Protocol Officer, Lord Hazelwood, who will make sure she is properly garbed and briefed as to the correct behaviour for the investiture.

Edmund Dalby, Viscount Hazelwood, lived the life of a hell-raiser until he went too far and his father disowned him after he ran up massive debts.  Having pretty much reached rock-bottom, he was recruited as a spy and told his debts would be paid and his life his own once again if he served his country for a year and a day – and this is his final assignment.  Given his reputation as a wastrel, Hazelwood – who soon realised he rather liked being sober – often plays the part of a drunken sot, knowing such a persona to cause people to think him unintelligent and harmless, or to ignore him altogether.  He has been assigned to protect Jane from Russian agents, most particularly from Count Malikov, a Russian émigré with connections at the highest level, who believes Jane has access to the information her father was gathering.  Hazelwood’s role as Protocol Officer is ideal as it will afford him plenty of opportunities to stay close to his charge, but the problem is that she very quickly makes it clear that she wants nothing to do with either him or the ceremony and tries every way she can think of to get rid of him.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

The Captain’s Disgraced Lady (Chadcombe Marriages #2) by Catherine Tinley

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When Juliana Milford first encounters Captain Harry Fanton, she finds him arrogant and rude. There’s no way she’ll fall for his dazzling smile! Her visit to Chadcombe House was always going to prompt questions over her scandalous family, so she’s touched when Harry defends her reputation. She’s discovering there’s more to Harry than she’d first thought…

A man so plagued by the demons of war, he’s sworn he’ll never marry, no matter how tempted…

Rating: C

The Captain’s Disgraced Lady is Catherine Tinley’s second novel, and tells the story of a young woman whose family history has always been shrouded in mystery and an army officer who is so haunted by the things he has seen and done that he believes himself defiled.  It’s not an especially original plotline, but it’s generally handled well – until Ms. Tinley decides to introduce a number of extraneous plot points that clutter up her canvas to the extent that everything starts to feel overly contrived and which, ultimately, led to an overall feeling of dissatisfaction on the part of this reader.

The book opens as Miss Juliana Milford and her mother, who normally reside in Brussels, have returned to England for a short time in order to visit Juliana’s dear friend, Charlotte Wyncroft, who has recently married the Earl of Shalford (Waltzing with the Earl).   Mrs. Milford has been greatly unsettled by the channel crossing and seems to Juliana to be unnerved by simply being back in England, but Juliana is used to her mother’s somewhat uncertain health and mental state, having run their household since she was twelve.  The ladies are settling into a private parlour at the nearest inn when they are interrupted by two military gentlemen, one of whom – who introduces himself as Captain Harry Fanton – assumes they will happy to share the parlour with them.  Infuriated by the captain’s arrogance – and concerned for her mother’s health – Juliana tells him what she thinks of him in no uncertain terms and sends him away with a flea in his ear.

Subsequent encounters with the terribly handsome but extremely annoying Captain Fanton only serve to reinforce Juliana’s opinion of him as conceited and rude – although she has to begrudgingly admit that she is grateful for his solicitousness towards her mother and eventually to acknowledge that perhaps she allowed her temper to get the better of her.  But as she is unlikely ever to see the captain again, Juliana doesn’t dwell on it – even though she finds it difficult to banish his handsome features from her mind.

A few days later sees the Milford ladies settled at Chadcombe House, the Earl of Salford’s estate, and Juliana happily catching up with all her friend’s news and reminiscing about their time at school in Brussels.  I’m not sure how Juliana fails to connect the name Fanton with Charlotte’s new husband, but in any case, Harry is the last person Juliana expects to see at Chadcombe, and she is astonished when Charlotte greets him and introduces him as her brother-in-law.

Juliana and Charlotte also make the acquaintance of their nearest neighbours, the social climbing Mr. and Mrs. Wakely who have recently taken up residence at Glenbrook Hall.  It seems there is a dispute as to the Hall’s ownership and the Wakelys  have been allowed to live there while the executors of the estate of the late Baron Cowlam (a relative of Mrs. Wakelys) establish her claim.

During their stay at Chadcombe, Juliana and Harry are thrown into each other’s company on several occasions and find themselves gradually warming to each other, enjoying their spirited discussions and verbal sparring matches.  Harry, who has determined never to fall in love, finds it increasingly difficult to ignore the truth of his feelings for Juliana, but he can’t bear the thought of tying her to a man as broken as he is. When the spiteful Wakelys make public some information they have learned concerning Juliana’s parentage – which, Juliana realises, must account for her mother’s nervousness at being back in England – Harry is forced to face the truth; he’s fallen irrevocably in love with a woman he can never marry.

With Juliana’s reputation now severely blemished, she and her mother arrange to return to Brussels, no matter that it seems as though England and France will very soon be at war once more.  Harry rejoins his regiment and finds himself in the thick of the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo…

As soon as I’d finished reading, I realised that the main thing I’d taken away from The Captain’s Disgraced Lady was that there was rather too much going on, which gave the impression that the author wasn’t quite sure what story she wanted to tell.  Is it an opposites-attract romance?  Is it the story of a young woman searching for the truth of her birthright?  Is it the story of a couple separated by war?  It’s all of those things, but the narrative feels episodic  – shifting from one plot point to the next – rather than cohesive with the various threads woven together throughout.  The final section – which sees Juliana returned to Brussels and Harry to the army – is the most gripping; before that I was only mildly interested in the romance because Juliana’s instant dislike of Harry has such a ridiculously flimsy basis and is so obviously a contrivance to kick-start an antagonistic relationship.  And the clues as to the identity of the missing heir and Juliana’s identity are so clearly telegraphed early on that there is no surprise when the reveal is finally made. On top of all that, we are informed – around a third of the way though – that Harry believes himself to be some sort of monster; and later that he’s too flawed and broken to deserve someone so innocent and pure as Juliana and the only thing to be done is to protect her by breaking with her without explanation.  The whole “I am not worthy, so must cut you from my life completely” plotline is one I dislike intensely, so that aspect of the story didn’t work for me at all; plus, Harry’s self-loathing and inner torment never really feel integral to the story (and vanish quickly), and instead come across as yet another contrived road-block on the path to happy ever after.

With all that said, there are things to enjoy in The Captain’s Disgraced Lady. Harry is an attractive, if somewhat stereotypical hero, and while I didn’t like Juliana that much to start with, she grew on me,  proved to be possessed of good sense and courage, and by the last part of the book I was rooting for her to succeed and to find her HEA with Harry.  The writing is solid, and the middle section of the story – in which Harry and Juliana begin to lower their defences and allow each other to see their true selves – is nicely done, with, as I said earlier, the final part being the most compelling.  Unfortunately, however, those things are overshadowed by the overabundance of plotlines which make the book feel overstuffed; and I can’t help thinking that perhaps a firmer editorial hand could have helped thin them out and develop the rest into a more cohesive story.

Chasing the Other Tisdale (Regency Blooms #3) by Jessica Jefferson (audiobook) – Narrated by Beverley A. Crick

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

She’s the other sister…

Overshadowed by the beauty of her older sister, Lillian is better known as the other Tisdale: unremarkable and unsure how she will ever deliver on the promise of her family’s name.

He’s a rake in need of reforming…

Will Colton leads a frivolous existence, embracing notoriety instead of managing his family’s fortune. Determined to forget his financial burden and his father’s growing resentment, he maintains a lifestyle dedicated to pleasure and self-indulgence. When Will is invited to the Tisdale estate for an extended holiday, he never expects to become friends with the forgettable Lillian.

But when a family secret comes to light, he must choose between leaving London and protecting the honor of one woman or staying and risking the reputation of another. Upon his return, Will finds the girl he left behind has come out of the shadows and into her own. Lillian’s finally the center of attention, and not all of it good. With his own reputation in tatters, can a reformed rake lure her out of the hands of London’s bachelors and back into his own arms? Can he escape his past and reclaim her heart, or has he lost her forever?

Rating: Narration – B+: Content – C+

Jessica Jefferson is an author I’ve been aware of for a while and isn’t one I’ve either read or listened to before, but seeing Beverley A. Crick’s name listed as the narrator for her Regency Blooms series gave me a good reason to pick up one of her books. While I have some quibbles about the pacing and some aspects of the writing, Chasing the Other Tisdale was an enjoyable, if somewhat predictable, listen.

Lillian – Lilly – Tisdale is the second of four daughters (all named after flora and fauna; Ambrosia, Tamsin and Rose are the others) and is often referred to as “the other Tisdale”, overshadowed by the remarkable beauty and popularity of her older sister. When we first meet her, she is just seventeen; awkward, a little dumpy, a little spotty and not at all confident in herself. She falls in love-at-first-sight with her brother’s friend, the handsome, charming, man-about-town, Will Colton, when she almost literally falls from a tree into his lap. The two strike up an unlikely friendship which continues after Will returns to London and they start writing to each other on a regular basis. The letters themselves are fairly disappointing in content; I’d hoped we would hear more of the couple falling for each other through their correspondence, but that doesn’t really happen. It’s clear, however, that Lilly is in love with Will while he doesn’t quite understand, at this juncture, exactly why Lilly’s letters mean so much to him.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: Lord St. Claire’s Angel by Donna Lea Simpson

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Celestine Simons was of good family, but an untimely death and a shortage of funds forces the homely spinster to take a position as governess at the estate of Lord Langlow and his wife. Never one to bemoan her change in fortune, Celestine is content to spend her days raising and overseeing their children, knowing in her heart she will never have any of her own.

Lord St. Claire Richmond, Langlow’s brother, is a rogue and seducer, content to while away his days pursuing pleasure—and driving his brother and sister-in-law mad by reducing their female staff to lovelorn fools with his flirtations. When he learns on his annual Christmas visit that the drab Celestine was hired as governess solely to thwart his dalliances, he devises a scheme to both stir her heart and spite his family’s interfering ways.

But as his game unfolds, the cunning St. Claire discovers this conquest may be more challenging than expected when the thoughtful and intelligent Celestine begins to fire an ache in his own heart. And what began as an amusement to give the plain, timid miss an innocent thrill is turning into much more, as St. Claire realizes she may be the one giving him the thrill—and teaching him in a way only a governess can that real beauty lies beneath the surface and that true love is often found where you least expect it.

Rating: A-

For December’s prompt of a Holiday Read, I went with Lord St. Claire’s Angel, a Traditional Regency which is, on the surface, your basic fairy-tale type story of a plain-Jane who finds love with a handsome rake. But Donna Lea Simpson has turned that familiar plotline into something that transcends the trope. Our sometimes not-at-all likeable hero really IS a rake; a self-absorbed, all-round selfish bastard, until he falls in love with a young woman whose goodness and unconditional love set him on the path to becoming a better man. Ms. Simpson took quite a chance in making him so unpleasant at times; prone to self-deception, he will always take the easy path if there is one – but St. Claire’s many faults somehow make him more real, even though there were times I wanted to smack him around the head. Our heroine, Celestine Simons, is one in a long line of down-on-their-luck ladies forced to take employment who has learned to expect little from life. It’s once again a tribute to the author’s storytelling and her ability to create complex, believable characters that while Celestine does occasionally seem bent on martyrdom, there’s more to her than a stereotypical goody-two-shoes; she’s come down in the world, but is determined to make her own way in life and stand on her own two feet, no matter how hard it may be.

Lord St. Claire Richmond, younger brother of the Marquess of Langlow, is handsome, charming, wealthy and, at the age of thirty-two, has managed to avoid the marital noose and intends to keep it that way. He’s not damaged or brooding, but as a second son, he wasn’t brought up to have responsibilities or any purpose in life, so he devotes his time to pleasure. He is making his annual Yuletide visit to the family estate for the weeks-long Christmas house-party and anticipates the usual round of respectable games and activities – and hopes for some not so respectable ones with some of the widows and bored wives likely to be in attendance. He is fond of his brother, although he regards the marquess as somewhat hen-pecked by his wife, Elizabeth, and certainly doesn’t envy him his social position and attendant responsibilities.

Gently-born Celestine Simons found herself in straightened circumstances around a year earlier after the death of her father, and took a position as governess to the Langlows. At twenty-eight, she is unprepossessing and suffers with an arthritic condition that can badly affect her hands, Celestine recognises she’s destined to remain a spinster and that working with children is the closest she will ever come to having a family of her own. Even so, she is somewhat hurt when she overhears the Marchioness telling her husband that one of the main reasons she hired Celestine was because she is plain and therefore unlikely to attract the attentions of Lord St. Claire when he visits – unlike the previous governess who plainly set her cap at the handsome devil the year before and had to be dismissed.

St. Claire may be many things, but he’s not stupid. As soon as he sees the drab Celestine, he is immediately wise to his sister-in-law’s machinations and, refusing to be outmanoeuvred, decides to strike up a flirtation with the governess anyway. In one of the most condescendingly obnoxious thought processes I’ve ever read in a romance hero, he reasons to himself that she will be grateful for the attention from a handsome lord, and that if he can steal a few kisses, he’ll be giving her something pleasant to look back on in the long years of spinsterhood ahead.

But Celestine isn’t stupid either. While she isn’t blind to St. Claire’s charms, and in fact comes to realise that there is an intelligent, thoughtful man behind the rakish exterior, she also suspects he’s playing a game with her when he markedly singles her out – and really wishes he wouldn’t. She can’t afford to lose her position, and St. Claire shows no sign of realising just what damage his notice of her could do.

But when, out of devilment, he accompanies Celestine and a couple of the other servants to a choir practice at the local church, he suddenly finds himself out of his depth. He is utterly spellbound by the unexpected beauty of Celestine’s singing voice; by the passion and the strength of spirit on display, and is profoundly affected by it. It’s an important turning point for him – although, I hasten to add, he doesn’t become a reformed character overnight. But from that point onwards, the reader is with him on his journey towards that reformation, a journey on which he makes mistakes, doesn’t always follow through on his decisions and sometimes deliberately sets out to sabotage his own good intentions. Ms. Simpson does a superb job of showing the reader that he’s falling in love without being aware of doing so – all St. Claire knows is that Celestine is far from the dowd he initially thought her and that she is possessed of great inner beauty and strength. It’s not until fairly late in the book that he finally wakes up to the truth – and his brutal honesty and determination to fight for the woman he loves go a very long way towards mitigating his earlier immaturity and thoughtless actions.

Both central characters are very well drawn, and even when St. Claire is acting like an idiot, there is still something about him that is engaging and that draws the reader to him. The same is true of Celestine – without the idiocy! – she’s an intelligent, generous and loving young woman who wants to do what she can to help the people in her life, and the author really does get to grips with exactly what life was like for a woman in her position, neither servant nor family and completely dependent on the goodwill of her employers.
There are lots of stories out there featuring rakish heroes who finally turn their lives around when they meet the right woman, but Lord St. Claire’s Angel is one of the best examples I’ve read. I said at the outset that making St. Claire selfish and unlikeable was a risk, but it contributes to the overall believability of the tale; had he not been like that, his transformation would not have been so dramatic and we wouldn’t be rooting so hard for him to see the error of his ways.

While the festival itself doesn’t play a large part in the story, the ideas of love and redemption that are so strongly associated with Christmas are major themes throughout the novel. Combined with a tender, deeply-felt romance, well-drawn secondary characters and a lovely, wintry feel, Lord St. Claire’s Angel is the perfect seasonal read.

Note: This book was originally published in 1999, and then reissued with some revisions by the author in 2013. Just a tad annoyingly – and the author has done this in some of her other books – some of the names have been changed; the hero in the old print version is named Lord Justin St. Claire, whereas in the new version, he’s Lord St. Claire Richmond. His brother, Lord Langlow was originally Lord Ladymead, and the heroine’s aunt Emily is now Lady Sedgley rather than, as she was originally, Lady Delafont. (Incidentally, Emily’s book, Lady Delafont’s Dilemma, has been reissued as Married to a Rogue.)

I have referred to the characters by the names they have been given in the 2013 version.

The Lady Flees Her Lord by Ann Lethbridge

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Driven to despair by her husband’s endless abuse and ridicule, Lucinda, Lady Denbigh, can endure no more. With no one to turn to, she flees London to take quiet refuge in the countryside, determined to build a new life of her own. Posing as a widow, she finds a small cottage to lease on the far reaches of a vast estate, relieved that she might finally find peace and safety—until her new landlord, the strikingly handsome and taciturn Lord Hugo Wanstead, presents an entirely different kind of threat to her composure.

Just back from the wars, Hugo is tormented by the physical and emotional scars that mark him. With his estate near financial ruin and his sleep torn by nightmares, he wishes only to be left in solitude. But when he meets the new widowed tenant on his estate, he finds her hauntingly beautiful in body and soul—and finds himself overcome by powerful sensual longing.

While the gentle Lucinda conjures up ways to draw the handsome and hurting Hugo out of his loneliness, he’s intrigued by her courage and her lively mind. But just as an inevitable passion stirs between these two damaged souls, a damning secret about Lucinda’s troubled past will be laid bare, and they will be forced to confront each other and a cruel foe to save their only chance at love.

Rating: B-

Ann Lethbridge originally published The Lady Flees Her Lord using the pseudonym Michele Ann Young in 2008. Ms. Lethbridge’s name is familiar to me as one of the authors in the Mills and Boon/Harlequin Historical stable, and having enjoyed other books of hers, I was interested in this, the story of a young woman trapped in abusive marriage who manages to escape and make a new life for herself.

Lucinda, the Countess of Denbigh counted herself fortunate to have married one of the handsomest gentlemen of the ton, but it wasn’t long before she realised that her husband had been more interested in her dowry and generous allowance than in her. He blames her when she fails to conceive, taunts her mercilessly about the fact that she’s not slender and willowy as is the fashion, and insists she diets constantly. He humiliates her at every turn, keeps mistresses, has already squandered her dowry and continues to pester her to provide extra money from her allowance – which she’s using in order to keep the household running. When he tells her they are leaving London in order to attend a house-party given by his disreputable friend, the Duke of Vale, Lucinda is horrified. Vale clearly has designs on her and Denbigh makes no bones about the sort of party it’s going to be, informing her that she is to act as hostess to a group of raffish gentlemen and the ‘ladies’ who are going to be provided for their entertainment.

Fearing for her safety should she attend, Lucinda finally takes the bull by the horns and leaves her London house in dead of night. She has very sensibly channelled some of her allowance into small investments (unbeknownst to Denbigh) and having these as a safety net, sets off for a coaching inn in the City. While waiting for the stage, a beggar woman literally thrusts a child into Lucinda’s arms before running off – leaving Lucinda with a straggly, scrawny little girl who can be little more than two or three years of age. Full of compassion for the child – and unwilling to dump her at the nearest workhouse – Lucinda decides to take her with her into her new life.

Captain Lord Hugo Wanstead sustained a serious leg injury at the battle of Badajoz and has, after several weeks of treatment and recuperation abroad, at last returned to England. He is riding home to The Grange, his estate at Beacon Hill in Kent and is within sight of the house when a little girl darts out from the trees and spooks his horse. He manages to maintain control of the animal as a woman rushes to grab the child, and when he is able to divert his attention from the horse, Hugo notices that the woman, though modestly gowned, is possessed of the sort of curvy figure which is enough to make any man’s mouth water. He immediately dismisses the thought in favour of sternly reminding her that she is trespassing, and the woman promptly introduces herself as Mrs. Graham and informs Hugo that she resides at the Briars at the edge of his estate. Hugo, who has no idea where the Briars is, or why it is home to an unknown woman, bids her a frosty good day and departs.

Upon arriving at The Grange, Hugo is appalled to discover that the estate is a mess; there are hardly any servants in the house, the stables are empty, the number of tenants still living on the estate has dwindled to a mere few … things are in a bad way thanks to his late father’s fondness for the race-track, and Hugo realises he’s got his work cut out if he’s to turn things around. His man of business tentatively suggests that perhaps Hugo might consider marriage as a way to solve his financial problems, but Hugo is vehemently opposed to the idea; one ill-fated marriage was enough and he has no intention of embarking upon another.

After their initially awkward meeting, “Mrs. Graham” (yes, it’s Lucinda) and Hugo find themselves drawn to one another and it’s not long before Hugo has enlisted Lucinda’s help in setting his household to rights. He also hopes that perhaps the voluptuous widow will be amenable to doing more for him than helping with the accounts; it’s been some time since he was attracted to a woman, and Lucinda’s Junoesque proportions set his mind to all sorts of naughty imaginings. But as the reader knows, Lucinda is not a widow, so for her, the decision to go to bed with a man other than her husband is very difficult for her. I know that for some readers, adultery is a no-no, regardless of the circumstances, and in that case, this book will likely not suit. Personally, I can deal with it in certain circumstances, and this is one of them; Lucinda’s confidence has been so broken down by Denbigh’s constant insults – he calls her a fat sow more than once – that I found myself cheering her on, especially as she begins to realise that Hugo really does like the lushness of her figure and the way she looks. They become friends as well as lovers, and as Hugo boosts Lucinda’s confidence, showing her true affection and sexual pleasure, so Lucinda gradually draws him out of his solitary existence. But where Hugo opens up to Lucinda as he has never done with anyone else, telling her about his nightmares, his life in the army and his short, tragic marriage, Lucinda, of necessity, remains guarded, wanting to tell Hugo the truth but afraid he will reject her once he knows it.

Successfully writing a romance based on a deception is a difficult thing to do well, but Ms. Lethbridge does manage to pull it off for the most part. As with the adultery issue, it’s not a plotline that will be enjoyed by everybody, but the author does a very good job of developing the relationship between Hugo and Lucinda, showing their growing emotional connection as well as the passion they inspire in one another. Deception apart, Lucinda is a well-drawn, likeable character; unlike some heroines in her situation, she’s sensible enough to have kept some of her money away from her spendthrift husband and clever enough to invest it wisely. I liked that she wasn’t prepared to just roll over and play dead; when enough was enough, she did something about it and got away.

Hugo is perhaps more of a stereotypical wounded – physically and mentally – hero, who beats himself up with guilt over things completely outside his control and whose reasons for not wanting to re-marry induced eye-rolling in this reader. Ultimately, however, he’s a good, decent man and he and Lucinda are a couple I can envisage together long after the last page has delivered their HEA.

I enjoyed the book, but there were issues with the pacing and some other inconsistencies which have knocked my final grade down somewhat. The first few chapters and the last few are exciting and fairly fast paced, the slower portions that show Hugo and Lucinda getting to know each other are nicely done, but there’s a large chunk in the middle that drags and I found myself skimming some parts, eager for progression. There’s some tension created by Lucinda’s fear that Denbigh will come for her… but he doesn’t, and then at the end, there’s an inexplicable volte face from a character who has been set up as a villain.

The Lady Flees Her Lord is a solid, engaging read that, while flawed, nonetheless earns a recommendation for its unusual premise and sensible, warm and loving heroine.