The Bartered Heart

Keeper of the Swans

Lord Monteith's Gift

The Ramshackle Suitor
by Nancy Butler
(Signet, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-19975-8
I have no trouble believing that staid, serious Lucy Parnell loses her heart to “roguish Roderick Kempthorne,” as the back blurb describes the hero of Nancy Butler’s new Regency romance. From the moment Roddy appears on the scene, dressed like a 17th century cavalier and trapped in a ditch where he had fled to escape an attack sheep, I was captivated. Here we have no tortured hero. Rather, Roddy is a sunny, happy-go-lucky fellow, admired by his friends, the beloved youngest son of a warm and close-knit family, liked by just about everyone he meets. What a lovely change of pace from the usual romance hero. Think a dashing and handsome Freddy Standen, all you Heyer-ites out there.

Lucy is less happily situated. Seven years earlier, she took a position as a governess to escape her unpleasant, controlling step-brother. She likes her work, but she has been troubled by a dream of a young child calling to her for rescue. She concludes that the child in her dreams is the daughter of her dead sister, Suzanne. Suzanne had eloped many years earlier and her step-brother had told Lucy that both she and her child had died. But a surreptitious investigation of Yardley’s papers had turned up regular payments to a lawyer on the Isle of Mann. Lucy has come to the island to try to find her niece.

Lucy’s encounter with Roddy comes as she is taking a solitary walk. She rescues him from that ditch, but when the attack sheep returns, the two seek refuge in a tree. Roddy had come to the island to help celebrate his good friend, Algernon Swithin, the Earl of Steyne’s, twenty-fifth birthday. He had wandered out of the castle in search of a lovely and amusing woman. Now, he has found one. But Lucy, with her own mission in mind, has no time for Roddy’s games.

However, the next day, when her step-brother appears to try to force Lucy to give up her quest and absconds with her trunk and her purse, Roddy is on the scene to come to her rescue. He convinces her that her only choice is to return with him to the castle if she wants to continue her search. Since the earl’s step-mother is in residence, all will be perfectly proper. Lucy isn’t sure that anything to do with Roddy -- known to his friends as Ramshackle -- can be perfectly proper.

There are lots of interesting twists and turns as Lucy searches for the lost child, all well done. But what really matters is the romance. Lucy is certainly charmed by the seemingly carefree Roddy, but further acquaintance leads her to see him in a different light. He is obviously caring as well as carefree; witness his concern for the widowed countess as well as for her own plight. But Lucy does find it hard to believe that there can be any future for a staid governess and a man five years her junior.

For his part, Roddy finds Lucy very different from all of the ton misses who have pursued him. She is serious and purposeful, interested in books and plays (Roddy has rarely read a book and snores through the theater). She is also lovely and kind and, when he kisses her, amazingly responsive. This is a true case of opposites attracting, yet the reader clearly sees that each brings out the best in the other.

Butler also provides an interesting cast of secondary characters and a nice secondary romance between the bookish "Snowball" and the mysterious woman who haunts the castle's corridors at night. The widowed countess who has not recovered from the deaths of her husband and her sons is brought out of her seclusion by the Lucy and her quest. Finally, Yardley Abbot is as nasty a villain as one could wish for.

The Ramshackle Suitor has everything a Regency fan could want. It has humor and mystery and great characters and a lovely romance. Nancy Butler's Regency romances just keep getting better and better.

--Jean Mason

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