Lyon Pennington, Earl of Aytoun, was seriously injured in an accident leaving his legs and one arm paralyzed. His wife died in a fall the same day. His mother, the Dowager Countess, believes she has not much longer to live and wants to ensure that her son will have a responsible person to care for him. There has been talk of consigning him to Bedlam. She proposes that Millicent Wentworth marry her son that very day by special license.
Millicent is the widow of a cruel man who owned slaves and property in the West Indies as well as England. She has dedicated herself to rescuing and freeing as many slaves as possible, most recently buying at auction Ohenewaa, an old woman who was a slave to a doctor in Jamaica.
Between her mission and her late husband’s debts, Millicent is dangerously close to financial ruin. Jasper Hyde, another slave and property owner, holds most of her debts, and she fears she will be forced to sell her country home Melbury Hall where many former slaves and servants reside. The Dowager’s offer includes paying off her debts. Millicent is reluctant to marry again, but being debt-free persuades her. She insists that a clause be inserted in the marriage contract that in the event of Lyon’s recovery, she can get a divorce or an annulment.
Lyon arrives at Melbury Hall. The treatment he’s received from London doctors has left him addicted to opium. He is coarse, insulting, and verbally abusive, but Millicent is determined to improve his condition. With the eventual assistance of Ohenewaa and her folk herbal treatments, Millicent is able to break the opium addiction and start Lyon on the road to recovery. As his mental and physical condition improve, Lyon begins to appreciate Millicent as a desirable woman, and she’s his wife.
Jasper Hyde’s lawyer was also at the auction trying to buy Ohenewaa. The woman had once been owned by Hyde’s father, and he believes she has cursed him. When Millicent succeeds in outbidding his lawyer, Hyde must resort to more underhanded means to get her back.
This story by a husband-and-wife writing team May McGoldrick (who also write under the pseudonym Jan Coffey) has a very nice romance. Millicent had a horrible, abusive marriage, but she doesn’t fight falling in love with Lyon when it’s obvious that he isn’t like her first husband. Lyon is a tortured hero – his first wife cheated on him, and he’s crippled – but he doesn’t assume, as for too many romance heroes do, that all women must be like his first wife. The gradual progression from conflict to love is well-paced and convincing.
Unfortunately, for much of the book the romance is not its focus. There are multiple subplots getting in the way of the romance. Supposedly set in the second half of the eighteenth century, the characters’ attitudes are far too modern. The general acceptance of racial equality and alternative medical treatments seems anachronistic.
The two most vividly portrayed characters are not the hero and heroine. The Dowager Countess is a welcome exception to many older characters. She may be elderly, but she’s the sharpest, cleverest character in the story. The narrative comes alive whenever she’s in a scene. Jasper Hyde is the villain, but he’s got a reason for his nefarious schemes beyond just being a bad guy. He believes the Ohenewaa’s curse has caused his physical suffering (which sounds a lot like angina), and he wants to get her back so that she can lift the curse.
The heroine in this book was a subordinate character in The Promise, and characters from that book make an appearance in this one. Furthermore, Borrowed Dreams is the first of a trilogy, and there are several loose threads left dangling at the end of the book which presumably will be tied in future stories.
For readers who are looking for a nice romance and won’t mind if it’s not the main focus of the story, Borrowed Dreams might be a good choice.