Once a Cavalier has an unusual setting for a romance novel -- the Restoration period and the reign of Charles II. The plague and the Great Fire of London were part of this era and both play integral parts in this time travel story.
Dr. Larryn Maeller is a physician who specializes in medical research. She travels to London for a medical conference to stay with Chloe Seldrake, an elderly woman she met through the Internet. Chloe had encouraged Larryn and became her patron through medical school. They both love Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Chloe has three of these dogs.
Her first night at the Seldrake home, Larryn sees the ghost of Thomas Northby, Duke of Seldrake, an ancestor of Chloe’s. He seems to be asking her for help. When she tells Chloe about the incident, Chloe confesses that she had hoped Larryn would see the ghost and shows Larryn a few items she had found in a building on the property. One item is a jeweled dog collar, like the collar on the dog in Seldrake’s portrait. Inside a compartment in the collar, Chloe discovered a locket with a picture of Larryn in it. Her name is written on the back of the picture. Larryn is stunned, but agrees to try and follow the ghost if he appears the next night.
After following the ghost, Larryn and one of the spaniels end up in the Duke of Seldrake’s time. Thomas is a doctor who secretly removes healthy children from plague houses. The king has declared that once a person in a household is sick, everyone else must remain locked inside, condemning many children to death. With his sister, another young doctor, and a secret network of people, he brings the children to his property, watches them for illness, and then tries to find other relatives to take the newly orphaned children. If Larryn is a spy, many people could be in great jeopardy.
Because of her American accent, Larryn tries to pass herself off as a healer from a far northern part of Scotland. Thomas is reluctant to believe her, but she is able to help him with a few medical situations. He also is attracted to her and becomes protective of her when a several incidents put her in danger. Larryn has shied away from casual sex ever since her only sister died of AIDS, and she tries to fight her attraction because she hopes to return to her own time. She keeps trying to find out how she can help Thomas so that she can leave before her heart is gets too involved.
Both Thomas and Larryn are admirable people. He is a product of his time period and holds some of that era’s attitudes toward women, but he does listen to her and defends her healing powers. Larryn adapts to the time period fairly well, but does not let her gender keep her from doctoring as best she can in primitive conditions.
King Charles’ court and its intrigues are interestingly depicted with just enough detail. The villain is a bit one dimensional, but a diversion is included which keeps the identity concealed until fairly close to the end of the book. The spaniels are important to the action and add some humor.
The time travel element is not overdone with too many details of Larryn’s adjustment and because of this, more time is spent on the plot and the story moves at a good pace. The epilogue shows a picture that is a little too perfect, but it is satisfying.
Readers who enjoy time travel stories and a setting that is a little unusual will probably enjoy Once a Cavalier.
--B. Kathy Leitle