His Heart's Delight

His Last Lover

 
The Captain’s Mermaid
by Mary Blayney
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7507-3
***
The Captain’s Bride starts out with an intriguing premise. Miss Lavinia Stewart was raised in Jamaica, under her uncle’s care, and upon his death was shipped back to England to live with her dissolute brother and care for his children. The brother refuses to spend money on a Season for Lavinia, declaring her too plain and too old, so as the story opens, she’s stuck on his small estate, while her brother spends his time carousing in London or elsewhere. Then one day a young boy spies on Lavinia as she’s about to take a swim. Furious, she marches the child next door and finds herself face-to-face with Captain William Chartwell, née William Braedon, a sea commander who’s the guardian of young Angus.

Their first meeting does not go well. Lavinia and William bristle and trade barbs; he insults her, she decides he’s a cretin. But Angus touches her heart, and Lavinia offers to bring him under her roof and teach him along with her niece and nephew. William has just received his next orders and will be away for several weeks, so he reluctantly agrees, thinking a woman’s touch might be a good influence on Angus.

A free-spirited young woman, chafing at Society’s restrictions, and a seaman who has spent his life answering the call of the open water might be a great match. But the potential is squandered here, as William and Lavinia spend a good two-thirds of the book sniping at each other and assuming the worst at every turn. William thinks of Lavinia while he’s away, but he’s determined to hold her at arm’s length. Lavinia believes William to be harsh and cold (with some justification) and she wishes she didn’t think about him quite so much. When they do meet again, it takes a while before they can even manage to be civil to each other. By page 100, they’re barely attracted to one another.

All of this doesn’t exactly bring the word “romance” to mind. It isn’t until the brother makes an unwelcome appearance that William is pushed into “rescuing” Lavinia and bringing her and the children into his own home, and then her reputation may not withstand living in a house populated mostly by men. By now William is lusting for sex, so he offers Lavinia a way out, but warns her he won’t promise to be devoted to her.

Oh, be still my heart.

The thing is, I never believed for one minute that Lavinia and William were falling in love. The suddenly decide they love one another, but the overall impression was of two people who simply haven’t anyone else decent to compare the other to. Lavinia’s only male contacts are her boorish brother and his drunken friends. William is the only halfway gentlemanly unmarried man in the book, and since he’s been at sea for years, one can’t imagine he’s had much opportunity to meet any respectable women himself.

There is a subplot involving William and his Braedon birthright, which he refuses to accept, but it mostly gives him a chance to act like an autocratic despot to Lavinia and drive a wedge between them at a convenient moment. As for Lavinia’s Jamaican upbringing, it figures little here, other than she likes to go barefoot and knows how to swim. All of this is too bad, because the writing is excellent from a technical standpoint, and it’s clear the author has done some research. William’s life at sea in the midst of the Napoleonic War is detailed quite well. But the romance just didn’t come alive.

The Captain’s Mermaidisn’t a bad book by any means, but it doesn’t quite live up to its promise, or premise. Mary Blayney has the writing skill to turn out a top-notch Regency, once she pushes the romance front and center. It will be interesting to see how this series develops with the next brother, Rhys Braedon..

--Cathy Sova


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