Code of Honor

The Defiant Governess

The Hired Hero

Second Chances

The Major’s Mistake by Andrea Pickens
(Signet, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20096-9
This story uses a well-worn stock regency plot - the titled hero jumps to the unwarranted conclusion that his wife has been unfaithful (usually some dastardly character has fed him a pack of lies he swallows without question), divorces her, hies himself off to foreign lands (heroic military service in the war on the Peninsula is a particular favorite) so he’s conveniently out of touch, then returns several years later to discover that she’s given birth to his son and heir (who’s always an exceptionally well-behaved child) he never suspected existed, and begins (very, very belatedly) to wonder whether she might not have been innocent all along. (The Duke’s Double, a recent rewrite by Anita Mills, features a very similar plot.)

Now I don’t mind an author’s employing a stock plot - some of the best romances are based on familiar plots. What matters is whether the author can add a special twist to make it seem new and different. There’s nothing really objectionable about The Major’s Mistake, but it’s very much same old same old. We’ve read it before, and we’ll undoubtedly read it again.

Lord Averill corners Lady Miranda in the library where he tries to convince her to become his mistress. When she refuses, he assaults her then seeks out her husband, the youthful Julian Grosvenor, and informs him that he has witnessed Miranda and her lover in an intimate embrace. Julian goes to the library where he finds his wife in a state of undress and instantly accepts that Averill’s tale is true. He immediately joins the military and starts divorce proceedings.

Six years later Miranda has been left destitute as a result of the scandalous divorce. She and her son Justin, a lively six-year-old, are living with Julian’s aunt Lady Thornton in Scotland; her own family has disowned her. Whatever funds she has are spent on her son. Known as Mrs. Ransford, a widow, Miranda is knowledgeable about herbs and healing plants and ministers to many of the local folk.

Lady Thornton’s brother has bequeathed her an estate in England, and she and Miranda agree to take up residence there. It is close to a small estate belonging to Julian, but because of its size, they decide he is unlikely to ever visit.

Julian, now the Marquess of Sterling, has returned from the war having suffered serious wounds. Although his leg is crippled and repulses many a young lovely miss, his title and fortune make him a desirable marriage catch. He has become bored with the social scene in London and decides to travel to a small property in the Lake District. Suspicion has arisen that unrest in the north is intended to undermine England’s war effort. Sterling is glad to accept the challenge of investigating the trouble.

Soon after his arrival at his estate, Sterling is out riding and comes upon Miranda. When he goes to call upon his aunt, he meets her son and soon discovers the boy is his. Complications ensue when Sterling tries to further his acquaintance with his son and learns of the impoverished conditions of Miranda’s life. He is impressed by her devotion to her son and begins to wonder if he was too quick to blame her. More problems ensue when the troublemakers decide that his presence in the area threaten their goals and target him for their criminal activity.

The strongest aspect of this plot is Sterling’s trying to come to terms with his unexpected fatherhood. Some of his attempts may be clumsy, but he is undoubtedly sincere in his intentions to get to know his son. The romance between the hero and heroine is to be of lesser importance to other relationship. Sterling’s growing bond with Miranda seems based more on his admiration for her qualities as a mother and gratitude for the fine job she’s done raising Justin than on basic physical attraction. There is little sexual tension between the two; a couple of instances of kissus interruptus is as hot as it gets.

Miranda is portrayed as this near saintly woman whose self-sacrifice and nobility of character have earned her the adulation of nearly all who know her. She’s simply too, too perfect to believe. If there’s an earthy woman who’s capable of some garden-variety lust inside Miranda, she doesn’t make an appearance in these pages. She isn’t repelled by Sterling’s scars as other had been (and even performs surgery under primitive conditions possibly saving his leg - what a woman!), but I would have liked her better had her thoughts had a tendency to wander back to earlier more graphic encounters.

The Major’s Mistake is a perfectly acceptable romance. Regrettably, it lacks that certain spark of originality that a stock plot requires in order for me to recommend it.

--Lesley Dunlap

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