has also reviewed:

Shores of Desire

 
Rightfully His by Tracy Grant
(Dell, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-44022546-9
****
It's been quite a while since I reviewed an "I can't go to bed until I finish this" book. Which is good for my health but bad for my spirits. But Tracy Grant's Rightfully His kept me up way past my bedtime last night. It had all the ingredients that I love in an historical romance: an intelligent heroine, a handsome and somewhat tortured hero, a complex and compelling plot, a rich cast of secondary characters, and a real and accurate historical setting. All this and a fine love story too!

Rightfully His is a sequel to Grant's five-heart novel, Shores of Desire. But let me assure you that you need not have read the previous book. I can say this because, although I did, I remembered relatively little of the plot and felt that Grant did a fine job of providing all the backfill needed to enjoy this book.

We meet the heroine, Charlotte de Ribaud and the hero, Frank Storbridge at what had to have been a terrible moment in their lives. Charlotte has just seen her fiancé murdered, but only after learning that he and her father, Daniel de Ribaud, had been embroiled in a dastardly plot to murder Charlotte's beloved cousin Sophie to cover up Daniel's theft of her fortune. Frank had been Daniel's secretary and Charlotte's dear friend. Indeed, he had felt much more than mere friendly affection for his employer's lovely daughter. Now, he has been sent by her father, the man she had loved and nearly worshipped, to make arrangements for her support as Daniel flees the country.

Charlotte is not feeling very well disposed to men in general or to those who had worked for her father in particular. When Frank blurts out a proposal that she marry him, she dismisses his suit, wondering whether he was involved with her father's dastardly deeds and seeing in the ambitious Frank another version of her ruthless father. She accuses him of caring for nothing but his own ambition. Stung and hurt, Frank decides to become the man Charlotte accused him of being.

Five years have passed when the main story begins. Charlotte had spent these years living with her radical journalist brother in Edinburgh or with her tonnish sister in London. She is visiting London when word begins to spread that Daniel de Ribaud is back in the country. Both Charlotte and her sister Celine, Lady Silverton, are deeply worried about what the father is up to now as he tries to reestablish himself in England.

Charlotte soon finds out; Daniel wants to buy the property he gave Charlotte five years earlier to further his railway building schemes. When Charlotte refuses to sell, Daniel threatens to expose the shady dealings of Celine's husband to his chief political opponent, Francis Storbridge. (That Daniel feels no compunction about undertaking an act that would ruin his daughter and grandchildren demonstrates pretty conclusively that he is a truly villainous villain.)

Frank has risen far in the years since Charlotte dismissed him so coldly. He found another secretarial position with Lord Vaughn and later married his daughter. Marriage had brought him a seat in the House of Commons and he had become a leader of the Whig party in Parliament. His wife had died in childbirth and left him with a daughter. His father-in-law had died and left him trustee of the Vaughn estate and guardian of his minor children. Frank had done well for himself.

Charlotte feels that she must approach Frank to foil Daniel's schemes, but Frank puts a price on his cooperation: she must marry him. Desperate to save her beloved niece and nephews from disgrace, Charlotte agrees. But she insists it be a marriage in name only. And so the game begins.

What I especially liked about Rightfully His was that the love story – that is, Frank's winning of Charlotte's love and respect – was played out within a tale of their efforts to defeat the machinations of Daniel de Ribaud. A friend of mine told me that she really is a bit tired of Grant's reincarnating the same villain in books. (This is number 2.) But I do understand Grant's motives: Daniel, Marquis de Ribaud is such a marvelously evil creation. Completely amoral, greedy, ambitious, intelligent, ruthless, scheming, evil – these words just begin to describe this character. His only weakness is his love for his youngest daughter, but he is even willing to manipulate and threaten Charlotte to achieve his goals.

If the villain is an outstanding character, so too are the hero and heroine. Frank is a man who was raised by a devout clergyman father, who concluded that to achieve real improvement in society, one must have power. And so he pursued power by means which left him wondering if he still retained his inner core of honor. He faces the constant dilemma of a reformer: how much of one's principles can one sacrifice to achieve power so that one can do good? Will Frank do the right thing even if it means he must forfeit his seat in Parliament?

Charlotte is a loving and intelligent heroine who fears her own nature and distrusts her own judgment. How could she have responded passionately to her fiancé? How could she not have seen his underlying weakness and evil? And how could she have loved and nearly worshipped a father who proved to be a truly evil man? How can she trust herself to love again? How can she dare abandon the rigid control she has developed even if she finds her husband to be an attractive, tender, caring and decent man?

In addition to the hero and heroine, Grant reintroduces characters from past books who cooperate once again to thwart Daniel de Ribaud. And all of this plays out against a background that accurately depicts the society and politics of the 1820s.

Rightfully His is a fine novel and I recommend it to all readers who enjoy historical romances. Grant's characters are fully developed, her plot is intriguing and her setting is excellent. I enjoyed Rightfully His immensely – but I sure hated that alarm this morning. I'm too old to stay up past 2:00.

--Jean Mason


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