The Captain's Courtship

 
The Lieutenant's Lady
by Kate Huntington
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-821-76420-9
****
Kate Huntington follows up her stunning debut from last spring, The Captain's Courtship, with an equally delightful spinoff. The Lieutenant's Lady offers a solid romance and a heroine with some spice and backbone. A good read is virtually guaranteed.

Lydia Whittaker has spent the last few years helping keep her family fed and clothed in their Yorkshire home. The second eldest of five girls, Lydia is the one with the head for practical matters, a useful talent since the death of her gambling, drinking father. Eldest sister Vanessa has just made a brilliant marriage to Alexander Logan, Lord Blakely and heir to an earldom. Hard on the heels of this triumph comes word that the Whittaker ladies are about to be evicted from their home by Uncle Henry, rightful owner. Now that Vanessa has married Alexander, let him take care of the Whittakers. Uncle Henry wants the house for his own son, Edward.

Lydia hides her distress beneath a fašade of determined cheerfulness, and packs her mother and sisters off to Brighton with Alex and Vanessa while she stays behind to close up the house and await Uncle Henry. When he arrives, Edward in tow, Henry doesn't recognize Lydia and mistakes her for a servant:

He tried to hand her his hat and cane, but she made no move to take them.
"Are you deaf?" Henry demanded in exasperation.
"No, Uncle Henry," the girl replied with some asperity. "Are you blind?"

Gotta love a girl with some spunk! And Lydia has it in spades. She knows she's on the plain and plump side, knows she has little chance of making a love match, and has determinedly used her skills to help her family make the best of a bad situation. Little does she expect to fall in love with her handsome cousin, Edward Whittaker. Nor does she expect that love to be returned.

Edward has some baggage, too. His maternal grandfather has just bought him a commission in the army. When he first meets up with Lydia, he's hung over from a drinking binge. His father is an arrogant ass and his mother a termagant who refuses to acknowledge her own sister-in-law. (Lydia's mother and Edward's mother continually refer to each other as "That Woman", making for a running joke throughout the book.) Edward, being as sensible as Lydia, sees his family for what they are and refuses to become embroiled in their schemes to marry him off to a spoiled heiress. Nope. He wants Lydia -- plain, plump, ape-leader Lydia; except to Edward she's pretty, lively, utterly desirable Lydia. How can he convince her?

The secondary characters do a fine job of gumming up the works with their machinations. Lydia's childhood friend, Robert, is on hand to court the spoiled heiress, Madelyn. Madelyn can't decide whom she wants. Robert, in despair, turns to Lydia, who believes Edward will be marrying Madelyn. Edward tries to wade through the mess, then is called away to fight on the Continent. Add the two feuding mothers to the turmoil, and things look bleak for our hero and heroine.

I had a delightful time reading this book. Lydia is all that Regency heroines aren't supposed to be -- outspoken, sharp, stubborn -- yet her character is outlined so clearly that she could act no other way. No wonder Edward thinks she's wonderful. As for Edward, he's every bit as willing to buck social tradition in order to win his love. Lydia is a perfect match for him, as he is for her. And the occasional anachronism (such as the use of the term "Nosy Parker") doesn't detract from the story.

Readers who enjoyed The Captain's Courtship will be glad to know that the lead characters from that book play important secondary roles here in The Lieutenant's Lady. Here's hoping that Kate Huntington is going to write her way through the whole Whittaker family. That means at least three more charming Regencies to look forward to.

--Cathy Sova


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