The plot is basically Pride and Prejudice – a snooty rich guy who insults the heroine early on and then spends the rest of the book becoming worthy of her. That’s OK, because probably 50% of Regencies are Pride and Prejudice thinly disguised and most of the rest are Persuasion. The snooty rich guy is Lord Alexander Rothwell, the second son of a duke, who has conveniently inherited an estate of his own, which neatly sidesteps the usual dilemma of younger sons, that of having no money besides what Papa dishes out. Usually they have to find some kind of employment, but not here.
Lord Alexander – yes, let’s deal with his name upfront, because it’s the only error I came across in the whole book. His name is Lord Alexander Rothwell, and he would be addressed as Lord Alexander by most people, or my lord/your lordship by servants and the like. Close friend might call him Rothwell. Very close friends from childhood might call him Alexander or Alex. But nobody familiar with the aristocracy would ever call him Lord Rothwell. Ever. The author missed a trick there: she could have had the social-climbing goldsmith get it wrong, while everyone else gets it right.
Lord Alexander is a grumpy old sod, and rude into the bargain, and to be honest, I didn’t much like him at first. Even when his miserable history began to be revealed, which was supposed to make him a sympathetic character, I still didn’t like him. And it takes him a long, long time to see what’s right under his nose and begin to do the right thing.
The heroine, Caroline Fortune, on the other hand, is an utter delight. She’s that awkward middle daughter, plain and gawky and bookish, and more interested in horses than people. She’s also refreshingly straightforward, and eschews polite white lies in favour of the unvarnished truth. Needless to say, she likes riding horses astride and dressed as a boy, behaviour that would get her instantly ostracised if discovered. But she’s also kind and sensible and willing to be polite in society if she has to. I liked her a lot.
The plot is fairly thin – a drunken bet between Lord Alexander and Caroline’s brother Harry, which involves them training a mean-tempered horse of Lord A’s and winning a race with him. It turns out the horse gets spooked by loud male voices, so guess who has to tame it and then ride it in the race? Never saw that one coming…
There’s also some shady business going on which sees Lord A getting bopped on the head by a mysterious assailant, and Caroline has to nurse him back to health, thus leading neatly to some close encounters between hero and heroine of the kissing and groping variety. There’s no actual sex in the book, but the temperature rises to dangerous levels from time to time.
There’s a lot about this book that would normally irritate me to death – the obnoxious hero, for instance, and the feisty, independent heroine dressing up in breeches to ride astride, but the writing is just so good, I was carried along with it. I loved the minor characters, too (especially the duchess!), and there is so much wit in it that I was chortling all the way through. I even got used to the hero being called Lord Rothwell after a while. Nothing terribly unexpected happens, and the villain was obvious from ten miles away, but this was a delightful read and I enjoyed almost every moment of it. Five stars.