Candice Hern can always be counted on to write an intelligent story with an intriguing premise. Once a Dreamer starts out in just such a manner. Young widow Eleanor Tennant is having trouble controlling her headstrong niece, who fancies herself in love with a rake. Worse, young Belinda has written to an advice columnist, The Busybody, who advises her to ignore the counsel of her elders and follow her heart. Outraged, Eleanor tracks down The Busybody, determined to force a retraction out of her.
Eleanor is in for a shock. The Busybody is, in fact, a man - one Mr. Simon Westover, son of Lady Albinia Westover. Eleanor blackmails him into agreeing to talk to Belinda and retract his statement, or else she will unmask him.
They arrive back at Eleanorís house to find Belinda gone - eloped with her rake. Eleanor manages to keep her mouth shut for all of two hours before blabbing the truth of Simonís identity to her cousin Constance. Constance insists that Simon should accompany Eleanor as she tries to catch up with Belinda, who is apparently on her way to Gretna Green. Simon wisely engages the services of two Bow Street Runners to go ahead of them and track Belinda down. He and Eleanor will follow.
What follows is a Regency Road Romance of sorts, as Simon and Eleanor chase Belinda around England, falling in love in the meantime. Simon believes in romance, poetry, and true love. Eleanor has learned the heard way that love is mostly illusion and she canít count on anyone. Their outlooks on love couldnít be more different.
The middle of the book drags a bit, as Simon and Eleanor tear from village to village, and Belinda gradually fades into the background. For long passages she isnít mentioned at all, and the urgency to find her begins to feel forced. Meanwhile, our hero and heroine pop in and out of one inn after another, staying the night, being forced into close proximity, and learning to re-examine their attitudes.
Simon is a dreamer, as the title implies. He longs for True Love and is astonished to find himself in love with Eleanor. Readers may be equally astonished, as their first impression of Eleanor may be that of a bossy, know-it-all shrew. Sheís sure Belinda canít possibly know whatís best, she berates Simon and privately scorns him, she makes a promise that she immediately breaks, and simply shrugs it off as inconsequential. I had a hard time warming up to her, and the eventual reasons given for her outlook didnít make me like her any better. ďReasonĒ felt more like ďexcuseĒ, as in ďI canít help the way I am because Iíve had some really rotten things happen to meĒ. By this time, Eleanor had dug herself into a fairly deep hole.
Simon is quite charming. Heís the family dreamer, having left more manly pursuits like boxing to his burly brother, Malcolm. Yet when the chips are down, he rescues Eleanor is quite a satisfactory fashion, and the author does a fine job of making the reader feel Simonís amazement at having acquitted himself so well.
As for Belinda and her rake, thereís a delicious twist at the end. It certainly left me smiling.
Once a Dreamer is a perfectly respectable Regency-set historical, and if the heroine had been a little easier to like, it might well have been a keeper. Itís definitely worth a look.