By Dawn Lindsey, 1994, Regency Romance
Signet, $3.99, ISBN #0-451-17874-2
A good Regency Romance offers sparkling conversation, delicate humor, genuine emotion, and flashes of sensual allure. What is sometimes missing is the romance of history, the beauty of nature, the color and humor of local characters, and perhaps a certain warmth and dash in the hero's personality. All those elements are present in Dawn Lindsey's delightful book, An Independent Woman.
This uniquely vibrant, Scottish-set Regency Romance is a treasure. It is everything a polished Regency should be, and yet it is much more fresh and natural. All but on the shelf at twenty-six, Gillian Thorncliff is as witty and sensible as any Jane Austen heroine. This proper English lady cheerfully admits that she does not know what love is, but that she means "to choose a husband with at least as much care as I would choose a hat." Her journey to Scotland to meet the wealthy and respectable Earl of Kintyre is eminently sensible, even if the results are entirely unexpected.
Gillian's coach is held up in the rain. The masked highwayman proves to be merciful as well as charming. Gillian is taken with him. But when she reaches the Earl of Kintyre's estate, the sensible young woman is forced to acknowledge that her aristocratic host is far more worthy of her esteem. Kintyre is Scottish by birth, but English in outlook. He has devoted his entire life to civilizing the poor and ignorant Scots on his estate. Gillian is impressed by the earl's intelligence, energy and hard work, though she can't help finding the man himself a bit dull and lifeless.
As the days pass, Gillian finds herself growing bored and lonely in Kintyre's opulent manor house. Her host is courteous, but always occupied with business. Predictably, Gillian rides out alone, and by the sea she meets the handsome highwayman once again. His name is Rory Kilmartin, and by rights he should enjoy the title that Kintyre now occupies. Gillian is torn. She feels it would be ungrateful and disloyal to side with this outlaw against her host, and yet her sense of justice makes her feel she must do something on Rory's behalf. There is also the problem of sexual attraction. As hard as she tries, Gillian can feel nothing at all for polite, dignified Kintyre, while boyish Rory sets her heart pounding. He is witty, playful, gallant, spontaneous, and irresistible. The only problem is that he is a smuggler and a thief, and seems to prefer the outlaw life to fighting for his legitimaterights.
No plot summary can capture the unique charm of this book. Gillian's secret meetings with Rory take place not in a drawing room, but out on the beach, by the green water and under the blue sky, in places where the beauty of nature makes the physical attraction seem truly explosive. The sensuality of the book is subtle, but dream-like and alluring.
Gillian sprains her ankle on the beach, and Rory takes her home to his "castle." When she is tired and wet and soaking, he puts her into a warm robe and tucks her into a huge four-poster bed. The tension berwen them is so overwhelming that the impact jolts like a full-blown sex scene. Gillian is both soothed and stimulated by the hero's gentle ways and tender loving care, and the two of them become good friends. Later, they sneak off on a smuggling adventure to Ireland, where Gillian gets a delightful taste of playing sailor, as well as sampling more forbidden pleasures.
With Rory obviously the man of Gillian's dreams, the Earl of Kintyre is revealed to be precisely what the reader expects. But the revelation of his character happens slowly and in most unexpected ways. Always polite and calm, he does not show any outward signs of his true nature until the book's unforgettable climax.
What with smuggling, midnight meetings, and assorted galloping here and there, this book has far more outdoor action than the average Regency. But it would be a terrible mistake to think the dialogue suffers as a result. Gillian and Rory are both superb wits who enjoy fencing with each other even before the physical attraction becomes obvious. Both of them delight in logic and are skilled debaters. When they argue the rights and wrongs of Rory's outlaw life, or Gillian's apparent desire to marry for money, the reader genuinely senses that here are two people who truly enjoy each other's company. It's a joy simply to listen in, and the subtle but unmistakable attraction between them is the perfect finishing touch. For those who desire a fresh, outdoor alternative to the usual Regency experience, Dawn Lindsey's enchanting Scottish love story is a vital read.
-- Larry Rogers