I like to think that strong, independent women have existed throughout the ages. Just because a woman had to live in backbiting Regency society doesn’t necessarily mean she had to be a doormat. Such is the case with the heroine in Maxwell’s latest, Deborah Percival. A young widow, Deborah is very content to spend her days on her own. Unfortunately, the nosey matrons of the Peak District have other ideas - they want her to marry Parson Ames - a local vicar with six unruly children.
Frankly, Deborah has no desire to be bullied into a second marriage, so when her half-sister summons her to London, she practically runs to the nearest mail coach. On her way, bad weather quickly halts her journey and she ends up stranded in Derby. While staying in a private home she meets Anthony Aldercy, the Earl of Burnell, and quickly succumbs to love at first sight.
Tony, while an earl, is on the fringe of society. His mother’s numerous liaisons, along with his father’s suicide, have kept the gossipmongers busy. When Lord Longest proposes that Tony marry his daughter, Lady Amelia, he sees it has his ticket into respectable society. Then he meets Deborah, and complications ensue.
Even though her character doesn’t start out on a promising note, I came to really like Deborah. At first, she seems to be yet another spineless Regency heroine who goes the way society tells her. It is once she decides to go to London that her rebellion really takes hold. Here is a woman who wants it all - a husband, love, children, and all of it by her choosing. While there are certain times in the book where she seems to be bending to the will of others, she quickly finds her own way and holds on to her ideals to the very end.
Unfortunately, the poor chit is in love with Tony - a hero I wanted to kick squarely in the family jewels on more than one occasion. He’s always harping to Deborah about trusting him. Well why should she? Not only does he fail to tell her he’s an earl when they first meet, but he also doesn’t mention that he is engaged! When she does learn the truth, Deborah is understandably upset. Tony’s response? He scolds her for being unreasonable! Then our “hero” sets about trying to persuade her into becoming his mistress, and refuses to call off his engagement - because what of the scandal?
This is when Deborah really begins to shine and offers up numerous reasons why she cannot accept Tony’s offer of carte blanche:
“The problem is I don’t want to be in second place, Tony. I don’t want to feel the stepdaughter anymore. I refuse to be the mistress. I won’t be an afterthought or the one to make sacrifices. I want to be able to hold my head high and live my life on my terms.”
Brava sister! Too bad our hero continually refuses to actually listen to her reasoning. He carries on with his marriage plans and mistress proposal for the bulk of the book - and he doesn’t grovel nearly enough at the end. Bloody knees would have been nice.
The bulk of the secondary characters are an unlikable lot. Deborah married a much older man the first time around to support her stepmother and two half-sisters. Her selfish sisters married for love, but their husbands’ are major jerks. Even the redemption of one couple towards the end left me unmoved. In contrast, the servant characters are quite enjoyable, and the story would have greatly benefited from more appearances by them.
I confess that The Lady Is Tempted barely ranked above a 2-heart rating for the bulk of my reading. However, Maxwell’s breezy writing style coupled with Deborah’s stand for independence moved me up another heart. Still, I continued to hold out hope that Deborah would dump Loser-Earl-Boy and hook up with Kevin the cooper.