|Kasey Michaels sets up her next million or so books with this story of a family involved in smuggling along the harsh stretch of English coastline called Romney Marsh. The hero is Chance Becket, the 30-year-old adopted son of Ainsley Becket, former Caribbean “businessman.” Widower Ainsley returned to England, changed his name, and purchased and estate in Romney Marsh some years ago. His large adopted family of children who were rescued from various nasty backgrounds lives with him, with the exception of Chance. Chance is now a widower himself with a five-year-old daughter, Alice. He is in desperate need of a nanny/governess, and when Julia Carruthers shows up on his London doorstep to inquire about the position, he hires her.
Julia is the daughter of a vicar and is herself from Romney Marsh. She instantly adores little Alice, though her attraction to Chance is less welcome. Chance’s plan is to take Julia and Alice to the family estate and leave them there, returning to London to resume his duties for the War Office. While in Romney Marsh, the War Office wants Chance to investigate smuggling activity in the area. While they’re willing to turn a somewhat blind eye to French brandy and perfumes, it appears that information and perhaps even personnel are being smuggled as well. Julia, whose late father sometimes aided the smugglers, knows more than she lets on.
Chance and Julia arrive at Becket Hall, populated by Ainsley (with whom Chance has had a falling-out) and Chance’s adopted siblings: Courtland, Spencer, Rian, Fanny, Morgan, Eleanor, and Cassandra, who is Ainsley’s natural daughter. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out. Keep a scorecard handy – you’ll need it, as all of these characters are determined to grab some page space and many are virtually interchangeable in the reader’s head. This character clutter is only one of several annoying aspects to this story.
Not only are the siblings present, but several ex-sailors from Ainsley’s bad old days also inhabit the hall. Jacko, a lumbering, leering butler of sorts, is particularly annoying. Julia is delighted with the house and its inhabitants, even after she is mistaken for Chance’s fiancée. Chance convinces her to carry out the charade for a short time after they are seen kissing. Julia employs the hackneyed reasoning of “I want to experience one night of grand passion” with Chance, thereby giving them an excuse to embark on a hot affair.
Julia was a problematic character. She’s bossy, domineering, and quick to jump to conclusions – in short, just the sort of heroine to get on a reader’s nerves. Chance seems like a decent sort, but if he adores his little daughter, so why is he so ready to abandon her at the family home and hightail back to London? The chip on his shoulder about his low birth got tiring, too. Ainsley, on the other hand, was quite interesting. The author can’t seem to mention his name without reminding readers that he’s “a handsome man,” as if nobody over the age of fifty could possibly be attractive anymore (wonder if Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson know about that?) I wonder if HQN would be bold enough to let Michaels write a story for him? Probably not.
The most interesting aspect of the story was the smuggling. Ms. Michaels evidently did her homework, as readers are given a sure glimpse into this part of English history and the “Owlers” who ranged the coastline, trading in contraband.
Chance and Julia gradually make their way toward a surer love, and in the second half of the book, her character improves somewhat. Chance, who lived as a wharf rat before Ainsley took him under his wing, manages to leave it behind him and move on with his life. The brothers and sisters are undoubtedly headed for their own stories, and given the number of them, I’d be surprised if this can be held to a trilogy. Perhaps the author intends to double up the romance in future books.
If readers can manage to carry on past the first hundred pages or so, A Gentleman by Any Other Name ends up delivering a decent romance wrapped in a fairly interesting story. I’m just not convinced I’d make a return trip to Romney Marsh.