September 2008, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Berkley Sensation, $7.99, 325 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425223248 Part of a series
Although Anne Gracie’s first installment in the Devil Riders series, The Stolen Princess, rather disappointed me, I decided to give the series a second chance with His Captive Lady. I am glad I did because this book lacks the silliness of its predecessor and instead features a strong, likable couple with whom I could sympathize throughout.
Harry Morant, the bastard son of an earl and a chambermaid, was taken in by the earl’s aunt and raised with his legitimate half-brother, so he has a gentleman’s education and is accepted in society. However, as he found out to his great pain and humiliation, this acceptance does not extend to his status as a candidate for marriage to one of the nobility’s daughters. He was a soldier for many years and recently left the army to start breeding horses. He is looking for both an estate to buy and for a wife, ideally an heiress from the middle classes. His carefully-laid plans meet with a setback when he visits an estate he is contemplating to buy and discovers that the daughter of the last owner, the recently deceased Earl of Denton, is still in residence and occupied in assisting a mare to foal. Harry has encountered Lady Helen Freymore before: She was sitting on a traveling cart in the rain, and in a quixotic gesture he gave her his hat and gloves. He has not forgotten her, and now when he discovers her to be proficient with horses as well as being the daughter of an earl, albeit a penniless one, in a lightning decision he proposes to her.
Nell Freymore has had an extremely tough time of it. Her mother died when she was young, and her father was a gambler, a liar and, to top it all, a well-meaning bumbler. He wrecked her life quite thoroughly, and in a last stunt, managed to do a horrible wrong just before he died. Now Nell is on a quest. For this she must get to London, so when the most attractive man she has ever met asks her out of the blue to marry him, offering both passion and security, to her great regret she must decline. Instead she takes on a position as companion with a rich merchant’s widow who wants to visit London. But the widow makes a detour to Bath to take the waters, and whom does Nell run across in the pump room? Harry, who is here to look over some heiresses his aunt unearthed for him. The instant he sees Nell, all thoughts of heiresses fly out of the window, and he manages to corner her and ask for her hand again.
I liked both Nell and Harry a lot. Harry falls head over heels for her. Because he has been disappointed before, he denies the possibility vehemently, but instead of acting like a jerk , he still does the right things. He proves to Nell he truly thinks her beautiful, he protects her, he insists he wants to marry her, and once she tells him of her quest, he reacts with understanding and practical support. The scenes in which he wriggles out of admitting his feelings to himself or to his sharp-eyed friends and relatives are very funny. Although he has experienced rejection in the past, he does not allow this to weigh him down or – except in dealing with one person – to embitter him. Harry is one delectable hero.
Nell is the more serious character. Her experiences have been truly horrific, but as she is immensely practical, she suppresses her pain for the moment and concentrates on her important quest and the steps she can take to further it. The quest does have a real purpose and is neither just for honor’s sake nor stubbornly silly. So I sympathized with Nell when she first rejects Harry, and I felt huge joy with her when she comprehends she may entrust him with her secrets and be heartened by his support.
Readers who like sensual tension in spades before the actual consummation will adore this novel. Harry and Nell feel powerfully attracted to each other, but take their time before reacting to that attraction. In addition, the development of their physical relationship is used beautifully to enhance and illustrate their emotional relationship.
The minor characters are a joy, especially Harry’s charming and determined aunt, and a secondary romance that started in The Stolen Princess is brought to its heart-warming conclusion. A number of characters from that novel make an appearance, but with the exception of the secondary couple they keep discreetly to the background.
One complaint lies with the book’s generic and misleading title. Although Harry forces Nell’s hand at one point, she is never his “captive” (nor anyone elses, for that matter). In the contrary, there are few romance heroes who are less inclined to boss a heroine around than Harry is (all this while being an alpha male – I said he was delicious).
This is a feel-good novel – did I mention it ends on Christmas Eve? It touches tragedy several times, but quickly moves back to comedy and harmony. Although I enjoyed His Captive Lady hugely, it felt perhaps a bit too happy, with all problems wrapped up too neatly to my taste. Still, this is a romance to be highly recommended, especially if you are in the mood for a really sweet read.
-- Rike Horstmann
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