The Dutiful Rake

The Unruly Chaperon

His Lady Mistress
by Elizabeth Rolls
(Harlequin, $5.50, R) ISBN 0373-29372-0
Each book I have read by author Elizabeth Rolls shows moments of entertainment and characters that are crisp and refreshing. Then each book suffers somewhere in the middle from mediocre interactions, interminable stubbornness and a reliance on misunderstanding after misunderstanding. His Lady Mistress fits the formula, which is unfortunate because I thought early on that this one was going onto my keeper shelf.

Verity Scott is a down-on-her-luck young lady and is desperate for rescue when she first meets our hero. The daughter of an Army colonel, Verity is fifteen and has just lost her father to suicide. Max, a man who served under the colonel in the Napoleonic Wars, arrives in time to help her plant bluebells on her father’s grave. Max is beholden to the colonel, who lost his arm while trying to save Max’s life, and is relieved to know that Verity has relatives who will take her in. Max has his own problems, having just inherited the title when his older brother was killed. He has a slightly younger twin brother, Richard, who is crippled due to an injury received in a riding accident; an accident that his mother blamed on Max.

Five years pass and Verity is still down on her luck and in need of rescue. She is ensconced in the household of her Aunt and Uncle Faringdon as a servant for her young debutante cousin, Celia, and a nanny to the younger children. She is treated horribly and has been made to change her name to Selina Dering. (The reason is so that the Faringdons can treat her like a servant, can state that Verity is no longer with them and can try to get an inheritance due to her from her grandmother). Max, who is actually the Earl of Blakehurst, comes to a party at their country estate to find out about Verity. While there, he is courted by Celia and every other eligible daughter at the party.

But Max vowed to his dying mother not to marry and have children, which would allow Richard to remain his heir. His guilt has made him want to keep the vow. So when he runs into “Selina” fighting off an attack by the Faringdon’s son, Gerald and when he finds himself attracted to her himself, he decides to ask Selina to become his mistress. Verity has always viewed Max as her hero and has been a bit in love with him for five years. While being his mistress is not her dream, that reality is much better than being raped by Gerald.

Much of the tale revolved around continued lack of communication, miscommunication, and the attempts by both parties to hide their mutual attraction and love. Max and Verity are either cold to each other, fighting or making love. Richard tries to intervene, but it takes more than that for them to get over this cycle.

Individually, and when they are apart, Verity and Max are enjoyable characters. The fact that they revert to insipid playacting when they are together is acceptable for a while and then downright frustrating. Verity is kind to servants, having been in their shoes before. She is anxious to please Max, yet has so little self-esteem that she takes every mean thing he says to heart. Max, on the other hand, is well liked by his family and friends, servants and tenants. He is often kind to Verity when he allows his guilt to let him pull down the barriers against accepting love. But then he gets angry and says awful things…and the cycle begins again.

It is hard not to like the story, on the one hand, because it is unique and in engaging in the first half when we are finding out all their secrets. But by the last 100 pages, the two are still acting the same and dealing with the same guilt, thus greatly lessening the enjoyment felt at the beginning. Richard and the servants are the most interesting characters during this part of the tale.

His Lady Mistress is one to read if you are a fan of Elizabeth Rolls. If misunderstanding and stubbornness are less to your liking, you may want to pass this one by.

-- Shirley Lyons

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