Another terrific read from Alissa Baxter. This one has less action than The Dashing Debutante (no highwaymen!), it was pure drawing room drama, but it felt like a smoother read.
The premise is a tad implausible: Anthony Hamilton gambles away his estate which he finds a burden. As part of the deal, he also includes his unmarried sister Diana. She’s won by the Earl of Fenmore, who insists that she move to his estate to act as temporary governess to his nephews and companion to his mother.
And already the hero is seen to be… well, heroic, because he’s the one who reminds Hamilton about his sister during the gambling session, and he also steps in to take the bet on himself when he sees that Diana might be won by a notorious rake. And of course he treats Diana as one of the family, in the most gentlemanlike manner. When she attempts several ruses to get him to release her, he sees through them at once and is amused and intrigued by her.
So the stage is set for love, but despite the fact that there are no insuperable obstacles on either side, it still takes the whole book and a great many misunderstandings before these two come together. Unlike many such books, however, the misunderstandings really do have some substance because they’re grounded in Regency manners. He is a gentleman and her employer, so naturally he has to keep his distance. And when she moves to Bath and has another suitor, naturally he can’t interfere. And she, being a lady, can’t tell him how she feels.
The whole business underscores just how awkward courtship was in those days, the difficulty of trying to get to know the person well enough to make a sensible decision on whether to spend the rest of your life with them, and the delicate balance between showing an interest and raising expectations. If a man takes a step too far, he may be required as a matter of honour to marry her whether he wants to or not. If he doesn’t go far enough, she may go off with someone else. And on her side, there’s the problem of distinguishing between serious courtship and flirtation, and trying to avoid a reputation as a flirt or a jilt. You can see why they often ended up marrying whoever their parents chose, or sticking to the familiarity of cousins – it was a lot easier!
Fortunately, these two do finally get together. But they’re a fairly cerebral couple, who do a lot of internal agonising about the difficulties of their situation and rationalising their actions. If you’re looking for a grand passion, this probably isn’t the book for you but the ending is nicely romantic. Recommended for anyone who likes a completely clean traditional Regency, with strongly authentic writing and historical accuracy and a satisfying romance. Five stars. And now on to A Marchioness Below Stairs.