Readers will see how easily gossip and scandal can ruin a relationship in this intriguing Regency romance by a vibrant new voice in the genre who brings a slightly different slant to an era we are familiar with.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Is he or isn't he? That's the question on London society's collective mind in this slow-starting but ultimately satisfying Regency romance. Alexander Foakes, earl of Sheffield and Downes, allowed his Italian wife, Maria, to divorce him on grounds that he was impotent, but now he turns up with a baby daughter he claims is his child by Maria, who kept Pippa's birth a secret until she was dying. Charlotte Calverstill, the unmarried Lady Daicheston, can't believe he is impotent--after all, he "ruined" her in a garden three years ago before leaving for Italy--but Alex doesn't seem to remember their tryst. Nonetheless, he is smitten with the new Charlotte in her trend-setting French gowns, and since Alex requires a mother for Pippa, Charlotte is his choice. Charlotte is less than thrilled that her first lover doesn't even remember their unplanned assignation, but her hormones are drawing her back to Alex, who desperately wants a virgin bride after the debacle of his previous marriage. Thus, the stage is set for surprises all around, though dedicated Regency readers will spot developments well in advance. There are a few unexpected twists, however, and James introduces several well-integrated subplots for variety. As an independent woman with kind and understanding parents who wouldn't dream of pressuring her to marry, Charlotte may not be a realistic representative of her era, but she is an engaging heroine. The depth of characterizations, the steady progression of the plot and the tongue-in-cheek title will attract readers who may just greet James as the next Amanda Quick. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
A Regency historical with a flawed hero, courtesy of newcomer James. Since his return to London, Alex Foakes, the dashing Earl of Sheffield and Downes, is being called the "Ineligible Earl." It seems his wanton Italian wife, who made his life miserable and cuckolded him frequently, had their marriage annulled on grounds of impotenceall in order to run away with a defrocked priest. So happy to leave the marital state that he willingly admitted to anything, Alex brings his infant daughter back to England after his divorced wife's death from scarlet fever, amid silly rumors of his inability to continue to breed aristocrats. No one knows better that he is not a "floppy poppy" than Charlotte Calverstill, the youngest daughter of the Duke of Calverstill, whose virginity Alex took at a masquerade ball three years earlier, just before Charlotte was about to make her debut into the British ton, which she did in an ocean of blue delphiniums. Now a reigning beauty and an accomplished portrait painter, Charlotte is reunited with Alex (though he doesn't remember her, since they were both in costume). All is swell until Alex discovers that his passionate bride isn't a virgin. Having had a poor Italian experience, he abuses and humiliates Charlotte, then decides to consign her to his chilly Scottish castle for the rest of her life. And poor Charlotte can never seem to find the right time to tell him that he was her deflowerer. Though Alex changes his mind and the couple have a blissful year together, the floppy poppy once again becomes enraged when he decides that the baby he and Charlotte conceive together is in fact the child of his twin brother Patrick. Reversing himself yet again, Alex willat last wise up, just as Charlotte seems near death in childbirth. James' tale is often bright and funny, though the reader may wish for a plot not driven solely by the shims of a shallow hero.
From the Publisher
"James weaves a web of scandals and surprises, forcing the reader into a delicious surrender."
"Unexpected twists...surprises all around."
"A fine debut...brings to mind the best of Amanda Quick and Judith McNaught."
Read an Excerpt
Charlotte was one week short of seventeen when her life changed, falling into two halves like a shiny child's ball: before and after. In the time before, Charlotte was staying with Julia Brentorton, her dearest friend from school. Julia and she survived boarding school together: the dreary grind of everyday Latin instruction, music instruction, dance instruction, art class, etiquette with the school mistress, Lady Sipperstein. Etiquette was really the only unpleasant class.
"Julia!" Lady Sipperstein would hiss, suddenly appearing behind her left shoulder. "Cross your legs at the ankle when you sit in a low sofa."
"Walk up the stairs again, Charlotte, and do not sway your hips this time! You are wiggling in an inappropriate fashion."
Lady Sipperstein was a terrifying woman with a bosom thatextended forward like the prow of a ship. She knew to a hair how low one must bow to a duchess as opposed to a king, and she drilled her students as if they would do so every day.
She was full of maxims: "One dismisses a servant as if he were a young child: with firmness, brevity, and uninterest. . . . The appropriate gifts for the sick depend on where they live: If they live on your estate, instruct the cook to make bone-marrow jelly and bring it yourself, with fruit; if they live in the village, instruct the servants to deliver an uncooked chicken instead. And of course be sure to ascertain that any illness is not contagious before you enter a house: While it is important to show feeling, one must not be foolish."
Etiquette was an hour of unnerving questions. "Julia! If a footman enters the breakfast room with an obviously swollen jaw, what is the appropriate response?"
"Send him home?" Julia would suggest tentatively.
"No! Information first. Is the swelling the result of a distressed tooth or an improper brawl the night before? If he has been brawling, dismiss him. If not? Julia?"
"Ah, send him to a doctor?" Julia stammered.
"Incorrect. Inform the butler that he should be put on duties that will keep him out of public view. There is no point in mollycoddling servants."
For Charlotte, art class was the focus of the day. She was happiest in the white square room furnished only with twelve easels. They painted the same groupings over and over: two oranges, one lemon; two peaches, one pear. Charlotte didn't mind.
Julia did. "A pumpkin today!" she would chortle, mimicking Miss Frollip's excited tone when she introduced the latest still life.
For Julia, there was dance class--and that not because of dance, but because of Mr. Luskie. He was a rather hairy man, a family man: robust, friendly, not a bit of danger with the girls, the teachers all agreed. But Julia thought his whiskers were dashing, and she read messages in the gentle pressure of his hand as he directed her through the steps of a quadrille. "I adore him," she whispered to Charlotte at night.
Charlotte would wrinkle her nose: "I don't know, Julia, he's rather . . . well, he's not . . . " It was hard to put into words. He was common; but how not to insult Julia? She thought a bit uneasily of Julia's passionate vows of love: She wouldn't do anything, would she? Of course, Mr. Luskie wouldn't . . . but Julia was so beautiful. She was like a peach, Charlotte thought: golden and sweet-smelling and soft-looking. Would Mr. Luskie?
One of Charlotte's governesses had been stridently opinionated about men: "They want one thing, Lady Charlotte!" she would say. "One thing, and don't you forget it and get yourself ruined, now!" Charlotte would nod, wondering what the one thing was.
So she would whisper back, "I don't think he's so handsome, Julia: Did you see that he has red veins in his cheeks?"
"No!" said Julia. "He doesn't!"
"Yes, he does," said Charlotte.
"How do you notice so much?" Julia said crossly.
Finally school drew to a close, and one by one the girls were taken off by titled relatives, or simply by maids: taken off to be fitted and prinked and "tarted up," Julia said, for their debuts. It was time to start a process that would end in settlements and dowries, balls and weddings.
As the daughter of a duke, Charlotte was regarded enviously. Her debut would be magnificent. Her elder sister Violetta had made her bow to society in a ballroom draped from top to bottom with white lilies.
It was only Charlotte who didn't care much. She longed, if the truth be told, to stay in the white square room and paint another apple, or (if the market was particularly exciting that week) even a persimmon. She was good, really good, she knew she was, and Miss Frollip knew she was, but that was the end of it.
She had to debut; Julia had to debut; there would be little time for persimmons.
So when her mother picked her up at Lady Chatterton's School for Girls, Charlotte felt resigned, but not excited. Her mother arrived in full armor, in Charlotte's private opinion: in the ducal coach with four footmen behind, all in livery! The duchess was shy and quailed at the thought of an interview with the formidable Lady Sipperstein. Poor Mama, Charlotte thought. She must have been in a terrible tizzy.
Finally Charlotte and her mother were regally dismissed by Lady Sipperstein and escaped in the coach. The duchess grinned in a most unduchesslike fashion, leaned back against the satin cushions, and said, "Thank goodness, you're finished, Charlotte! I never have to see Lady Sipperstein again! We can be comfortable. How did the last picture go, darling--oranges, wasn't it?" For Charlotte's mama was a devoted parent, who lovingly kept track of her children's latest exploits, even if in Charlotte's case that had simply turned into a long progression of watercolor fruits.
"All right, Mama," Charlotte said. "I'll show you when we get home." Charlotte frowned a bit. Her mama treated all her work the same: with reverence, delight, and a noncritical eye.
"Good," said Adelaide comfortably. "I shall send it off immediately to Saxony. We're doing quite well on that hallway, dearest. Why, two or three more and the walls will be full!"
From the Hardcover edition.