This is the third and final part of the trilogy, and unlike book 2, it really does help to have read the earlier books first. This is the book where all the pigeons come home to roost, so to speak. In book 1, fortune hunter Jason, Lord Kilmore tried to elope with Alison Larkin. In book 2, he actually did elope with an heiress, but when that fell apart, he married another heiress, Penny Bryant. This book picks up the story a few weeks or months later. Jason has already gone to London, and his mother, his two sisters and his new wife are travelling south from their home near the Scottish border to join him. Penny is pregnant and finding morning sickness rather a trial, and Megan is suffering from a migraine. The ladies stop at an inn, and it’s shy, timid Thea who’s dispatched to secure rooms for them, since the other ladies aren’t up to the job.
But there’s a problem – the inn is full because of a sporting event, and there are no rooms to be had. Happily for the Kilmore ladies, a passing hero rescues them by giving up his room, and his friend’s, too, and then inviting the ladies to dine with them. The hero is the imposingly large Lord Hazlewood and his small but dandyish friend is Will DeVine. And so begins the odd friendship between these two and the Kilmore ladies.
While Thea, having led a sheltered life, struggles to behave and speak in the ladylike manner favoured by her mother, every time she puts her foot in it, Lord Hazlewood is there to smooth things over. He is the perfect courteous gentleman, and she begins to feel that she would not mind having to meet him again in London. So on to London the ladies go, their way smoothed by the thoughtful Lord Hazlewood.
There they find that Penny’s house is practically bare of furniture, everything having been trashed by her uncle before he moved out. Jason has managed to make repairs and supply the bare bones of the required furniture, but not much more. He’s also shocked by Penny’s exhausted appearance, and not at all the loving husband she’d hoped to find. And so, unusually for a Regency romance, even though these two appeared to have achieved their happy ending in the previous book, the state of their marriage becomes a central concern of this one, and even more so when previous events come back to haunt Jason and make Penny unhappy. It’s an interesting, and very realistic, scenario and I applaud the author for not assuming that everything in the garden will be rosy as soon as a girl has a ring on her finger.
Meanwhile our pair of heroes, Mr DeVine and Lord Hazlemere, are circling round the two Kilmore ladies, lively Megan and shy Thea, not at all put off (in Lord H’s case) and only slightly put off (in Mr DV’s) by the fact that they live in Russell Square, home of cits and lawyers. Of course the road to happiness is not smooth, and there’s the usual dramatic finale, but it’s clear that these two are both perfectly matched couples. I have to say, I liked all the characters in this book, and the way their stories played out. Thea learns to be more assertive, Lord Hazlewood learns the value of allowing his emotions free rein occasionally, and everything is tied up satisfactorily.
There’s only one aspect of the book that gave me pause. Lord Hazlewood has a mistress of many years’ standing. Now, he does pay her off once he realises he’s thinking of marrying Thea, but up until that point, he visits regularly and they seem to have a very cosy relationship, more like husband and wife than anything else. And then Lord Hazlewood is surprised when his mistress is upset at the break up. My question would be: how could he NOT be upset himself? Why is he not a least partly in love with her? I’m not sure I can like a man who is so detached about ending a relationship of many years.
But I suppose this is par for the course with books of this age. There’s a very different morality at play, where mistresses and wives are two different things, and occupy separate places in a man’s life. However shocking it looks to us now, the world was a different place thirty years ago. Apart from that, I have no real grumbles. I would have liked a little longer with our primary couple post-proposal, but that’s true of virtually every book of this vintage, so it’s not really a complaint. A lovely five-star read.