The Earl's Intended Wife

The Society Catch by Louise Allen
(Harlequin, $5.50, PG) ISBN 0373-29409-3
The Society Catch has some unique moments and some entertaining activity. Sadly, the heroine doesn’t learn from her mistakes, so many of the misadventures are of her own making. This lessons the enjoyment of what could have been a recommended reading experience.

Joanna Fulgrave fell in love with Colonel Giles Gregory when she was only 16 and he was off to fight the wars. She became determined to stop being the mischievous hoyden and start being the exemplary debutante so that upon his return Giles would recognize that she would make him a dutiful wife who would be an asset to his career. Three years later, she is in her second season and everyone views her as an ideal. Joanna has turned down other offers waiting for Giles.

At the Bridlington’s ball, Joanna discovers that Giles has returned and that he seems intent on offering for another debutante, Suzanne Hall. Giles, of course, is merely goofing around with an old family friend, and what Joanna overhears is the discussion about talking to Suzanne’s father about driving Giles’s curricle, not becoming engaged. This misunderstanding leads to the rest of the tale. Joanna is shocked and when Giles discovers her, he gives her champagne. This leads to her drinking rather excessively and flirting with every man in the place. Her family is embarrassed, especially when they have been approached by the Earl of Clifton. Joanna hates the Earl of Clifton, thinking he is condescending and only enamored of her beauty. One thing soon leads to another. Joanna decides to run away to a married friend in the country and Giles is innocently entrapped in rushing after her to find her and return her to the bosom of her family. (He is after all, almost family, being best friends with Joanna’s cousin’s husband).

Let the adventures begin. Joanna narrowly escapes being sent to a brothel as a virgin sacrifice, only to find herself being sent to Bath with a nagging and rather condescending governess turned chaperone. She runs again and Giles has to chase her. This habit of running and being chased goes around several times, with each time allowing the two to spend time together to get to know each other.

While some of the situations that Giles and Joanna find themselves are rather unique, (it is not often that one finds a heroine in the grasp of whoremongers), the novelty loses its effectiveness when Joanna acts like an immature brat and keeps running away. She is rather ingenious at it, even going so far as to knock Giles out after locking him in the stable. But the danger she faces seems almost to be a natural consequence of her actions. Frankly, she deserved everything she got.

Luckily, the story was saved by Joanna’s character shift when she was in danger and when she interacted with Giles. Joanna is a brave sort, and despite her other behavior is no simpering miss. She and Giles are well matched. Giles is a military man and shows courage, determination and patience beyond compare. Even when angry (which he has good reason to become), he displays gentlemanly characteristics and admirable fortitude. They both slowly realize their love and it is easy to get drawn in as they discover the best about the other. Joanna shows some growth in her feelings when she realizes that she loves Giles now, but what went before was idol worship without substance. Giles deserves more than a hoyden and he ultimately gets her.

To fully enjoy this story, the reader must get past Joanna’s seemingly dim-witted actions to see the woman she can be. If you can do that, then The Society Catch can be an enjoyable Regency romance.

-- Shirley Lyons

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