Never a Gentleman
by Eileen Dreyer
(Grand Central, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-446-54206-7
***
Parts of this book were truly beautiful, and parts of it annoyed me down to my toes. I predict that readers will have a “love it or leave it” reaction and Never a Gentleman will find its way onto many a keeper shelf. Sadly, not mine.

Grace Fairchild has followed her soldier father all over the world, earning herself the nickname “The Little Colonel” for her calm, capable ways. She’s also garnered a loyal pack of young soldiers nicknamed “Grace’s Grenadiers” who look out for her and feature prominently in the story. Grace is tall, plain, and walks with a bit of a limp, defects that Society abhors. Yet she dreams of being loved by a special man. When Grace wakes one morning to find a naked man in her bed, she is sure it’s a dream. It’s not.

Diccan Hilliard is a member of Drakes Rakes, a group of intelligence officers working under the Earl of Drake. They are on the hunt for a band of men calling themselves the British Lions, who would like to overthrow the king and Prince Regent and are planning several assassinations, most notably the Duke of Wellington and perhaps the Prince Regent himself. Diccan, who knows Grace slightly, has no idea who drugged them and dumped them in bed together. What he does know is that they must marry, both to protect Grace’s reputation and to protect his investigation. A scandal would bring unwanted attention to him just when he can least afford it.

Grace is convinced against her better judgment, and a hasty wedding is arranged. The couple returns to London. Society is in shock that the handsome rake married a woman so patently unattractive, but the more Diccan gets to know Grace, the more he is charmed by her. He is especially attracted to her fine mind, sensible outlook, and expertise on horseback, where she truly shines.

But someone is out to kill Diccan before he can uncover the traitors, and if Diccan can be thrown off-kilter by Grace’s death, so much the better. Diccan, therefore, decides that the best way to keep Grace safe is to make it known that he cares nothing for her. This even though he has filled the house with servants who are, in effect, his agents, keeping an eye on Grace around the clock. When Diccan’s former mistress shows up and it seems she may be tied to the traitors, Diccan must renew his relationship with her in order to find out. Grace’s growing feelings for Diccan will be tested to the limit.

It’s a testament to Eileen Dreyer’s talents as a writer that she kept me involved with this story, because Diccan and Grace were both frustrating characters. My biggest issue was Diccan’s refusal to tell Grace the truth about keeping her at arm’s length, even though there seemed to be no reason not to bring her into his confidence. This is a woman who has followed the drum, can shoot and ride as well as any soldier, has lived in places that would cause most women to swoon simply thinking about it, and he can’t simply tell her “Look, I’m going to pretend complete indifference to you because I think someone is trying to kill us both?” Instead, Diccan broods on the pain he feels because Grace is so unhappy and he’s the cause. Too many times, his attitude seemed to be All About Diccan.

Grace doesn’t stay true to her established character from the first book. She has a small estate where she longs to live and raise horses, and she has a number of loyal staff who would welcome her joyfully. Instead, this supposedly strong, smart, independent woman meekly allows Diccan to treat her like dirt, and then stays around for more. While Grace is pining for Diccan, the reader will likely be wishing she’d find some of her much-vaunted backbone and just abandon him for the country. Why create a strong heroine with an unusual background and then strip her of her ability to act when necessary?

SPOILER ALERT: The author included a scene that is going to either make it or break it for many readers, involving Diccan and his ex-mistress. I was on the “break it” side – I found it, and especially Grace’s reaction, to be a bit creepy and not entirely realistic. Granted, Grace is presented as a woman who has known no physical passion and doesn’t expect Diccan to be attracted to her. And it certainly will get readers talking.

The story is redeemed a bit at the end, when everything comes to light and Diccan must work to convince Grace they belong together. And the writing is simply superb.

Never a Gentleman is the second in a series, and the final book will feature my favorite character so far – Grace’s friend Kate, who is a duchess. While this installment didn’t quite satisfy, I’ll definitely be back for the next one. Kudos to Eileen Dreyer for making an uncomfortable story one that is eminently readable, anyway. That’s talented writing, and worth a reader’s time.

--Cathy Sova


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