Wilma Counts is fast becoming one of my favorite Regency authors. If her style is occasionally a bit inelegant, her stories, characters and accurately portrayed setting are so good that one overlooks her occasional infelicitous turn of phrase. She has another winner in The Willful Miss Winthrop, a most unusual Regency romance in that
it is set mostly in Portugal and Spain.
Cymberly Winthrop demonstrates her willfulness early on when she refuses to marry the very eligible Lord Taraton, despite having been stranded with him in a country inn when their carriage lost a wheel. The ton is askance at such a scandalous behavior so, rather than face their foolish disapproval, Cymberly decides to join her father, a general in
Wellington’s army. News of her actions has reached the English contingent in Lisbon, so rather than stay in the city, Cymberly convinces her father to permit her to travel with the army.
A lovely young lady inevitably attracts admirers among the army officers far from home. Cymberly soon finds herself pursued by the handsome and charming Lieutenant Reggie Fleming. She can’t help but enjoy his company, but his kisses fail to move her. And she has to admit that she is fascinated by Major Geoffrey Ryder, a Rifleman and one of
Wellington’s trusted intelligence officers.
Readers who insist that their romances concentrate almost exclusively on the love story may not enjoy this book as much as I did. Much of the story recounts Cymberly’s experiences in the train of Wellington’s army during the final campaign of the Peninsular War. Cymberly undergoes the hardships and dangers of traveling through a harsh country ravaged by war. She sees the devastation that war brings and suffers grievous
personal loss when her beloved father dies. Yet she refuses to leave, preferring to continue the work she has begun tending the wounded and easing the dying.
This is very much Cymberly’s book and she is a most admirable heroine. Her unusual upbringing while her father served in India stands her in good stead. She is not your usual Regency miss, but is nonetheless a completely believable character.
Geoffrey Ryder is the perfect romance hero. He is brave and handsome and well respected by both the officers and the men of the army. He is the epitome of a good officer, a good soldier. And when Cymberly needs rescuing, the major is right always there to play the knight in shining armor.
Major Ryder attracts Cymberly, but there are barriers to their romance. First, the major is often away on duty while Reggie is always on hand to woo the fair lady. Yet Cymberly never quite falls for Reggie’s charm. An additional problem arises from the fact that the major is her grandfather’s heir and she has been estranged from the Ryder family
since her mother was cut off for marrying her father.
Wilma Counts obviously has a real understanding of military history which she interweaves into her story most effectively. In its recreation of army life, The Willful Miss Winthrop reminds me of one of my favorite Gellis’ novels, Fortune’s Bride or Marjorie Farrell’s excellent Red, Red Rose. The romance, while it at times takes second place to Cymberly’s experiences, is very, very
satisfying indeed. In fact, the whole book is very, very satisfying. I recommend The Willful Miss Winthrop enthusiastically.