The Last Hellion

Lord Perfect

Miss Wonderful

Mr. Impossible

 
Not Quite a Lady
by Loretta Chase
(Avon, $6.99,PG-13) ISBN 978-0-06-123123-0
****
I love the way Loretta Chase writes. But two things stopped me from enjoying this book unreservedly: the use of a couple of my least favorite romance clichés, and a slightly-too-strong echo of Lord Perfect (which I enjoyed heartily).

At seventeen, Lady Charlotte Hayward was seduced by a rake who got her pregnant before being killed in a duel. Her beloved stepmother, Lizzie, helped Charlotte through the ordeal, then arranged for the baby to be adopted by a good family. Lizzie even, against her better judgment, helped Charlotte conceal the whole sad business from her doting father.

Now, ten years later, Charlotte has made herself into the perfect lady and daughter – good natured, generous and gracious. The only thing she will not do to please her dear Papa is marry. She would rather die a spinster than expose her youthful shame to a husband who will expect a virginal bride. Although she is lovely and an heiress, she used her considerable intelligence to maneuver through eight London Seasons without attracting a single proposal.

Now, however, her father (a marquess with a scientific bent) has devised a plan to ensure her happiness. A group of acceptable marital prospects will be invited to a two-week house party. Charlotte may sort through the candidates at her leisure and attract the attention of the one she likes best.

Walking about, contemplating the dismal choice between disappointing her father and pleasing him, Charlotte is startled to stumble over Darius Carsington. The youngest son of the earl of Hargate, Darius has been banished by his father to the derelict estate next door to Charlotte’s family in the hope that he might make something of himself. If he can make the land profitable within one year, the earl will excuse his son from making himself useful by marrying. Since Darius, a noted agricultural scientist, classes Romantic Love with Superstition, Myth and Poetic Nonsense, and is indifferent to marriage, he accepts the challenge.

Although Ms. Chase excels at matching unlikely couples, and I liked this hero and heroine (especially Charlotte), their interaction was a little too reminiscent of Lord Perfect, the story of Darius’s brother Benedict. In both books, the hero and heroine are determined that they will not give in to their attraction to each other – and in this book, it expresses itself in the dreaded ‘go away/I want you bad’ interaction. To be fair, Ms. Chase is one of the few authors talented enough to make this push/pull thing work, but I still couldn’t help rolling my eyes occasionally when an order to ‘go away’ (usually coming from Charlotte) ended up in a passionate clinch. A cliché is still a cliché, no matter how skillfully handled.

I have to admit that secret babies are also not a storyline I love, and this one was further marred by a couple of extremely convenient coincidences and what seemed to me to be an unrealistically easy resolution.

Having said all that, however, Ms. Chase is a splendidly witty and entertaining writer, and all of those qualities are in this book as well. The characterizations are vivid and engaging. I particularly loved the contrast between Charlotte’s outwardly impeccable deportment and her thoughts, which were often funny and scathing.

The secondary characters are as vibrant and funny as the protagonists, and add depth to both the atmosphere and the plot.

And, perhaps most wonderful of all is the author’s wonderful touch with sensory detail. I always feel enveloped in the sights, sounds and other tactile elements of the book’s world, but never overwhelmed by them. This information enhances the story and my connection with the characters by serving them but never becomes the focus.

The romance is warm and satisfying, even with the push/pull element I wasn’t crazy about, and the sexual tension builds insistently, a trademark of Ms. Chase’s writing that brings me back to her books time after time.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a Loretta Chase book that I did not enjoy – and this one is no exception, even with my quibbles. I hope you will read and enjoy it as well.

-- Judi McKee


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