Lady Delafont's Dilemma

Lady May's Folly

Lord St. Claire's Angel

 
Miss Truelove Beckons
by Donna Simpson
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7039-X
****
I have an ironclad rule. Whenever a book keeps me up to 3:00 in the morning, I simply have to give it four hearts, even if the title is absolutely dreadful and the heroine too good to be true. Perhaps my fondness for this book (I simply refuse to write the title ever again) lies in its premise; stories about soldiers who come home from the war bearing both physical and emotional scars and who are healed by love are among my favorites.

Wycliffe Prescott, Viscount Drake, is certainly among the walking wounded. His physical wound is the least of his problems. What really worries his mother, the Countess of Leathorne, are the nightmares that Drake has almost every night as he relives his near death experience at Waterloo and all of the other horrors he experienced during his long years as a soldier.

Lady Leathorne decides that what Drake needs is something to take his mind off the past and help him to look to the future and that something is a wife. So she invites her old friend Lady Swinely and her lovely daughter Arabella for a visit. Drake and Arabella had enjoyed a pleasant flirtation the previous year, before Waterloo, and the two friends had long dreamed of a match between their offspring.

The Swinleys arrive at Lea Park accompanied by Arabella’s cousin, Miss Truelove Becket. True, as she is generally called, is the daughter of a vicar. Arabella spent most of her vacations with her cousins while her mother pursued her pleasures, so the two are very close, despite the six year difference in their ages. True accepted the invitation to join the Swinleys because she has an important decision to make: whether to accept the suit of her father’s curate, Mr. Arthur Bottlesby.

When Drake is introduced to True, he mishears the name and calls her “Miss Truelove Beckons.” (Sorry, I couldn’t figure out a way to avoid saying the words.) And, indeed, his mistake is a portent of things to come. For despite all of Arabella’s practiced charms, it is True - with her quiet sympathy and her ability to empathize with his fears, who catches Drake’s attention.

Of course, the daughter of a country vicar is not a suitable match for an earl’s heir, something of which True is well aware. Moreover, there are Arabella’s feelings to consider. True’s cousin has long expected to marry Drake and True’s genuine love for her relative is another impediment.

Arabella is a very interesting character whose behavior offers a commentary on the power of social expectations. True remembers her cousin as a bright, headstrong, competitive girl. Thanks to her mother’s tutoring, Arabella has had to make herself over into society’s image of young womanhood. Her superficiality provides a telling contrast to the heroine’s solid character, one that Drake comes to appreciate. Moreover, Arabella’s success in London and her mother’s influence have spoiled her in True’s eyes. The reader cannot like Arabella but can sympathize with her.

In comparison, True is actually a less interesting character, although clearly an admirable young woman. One certainly understands and applauds Drake’s perception in seeing that she is worth ten of her cousin.

Drake is the very epitome of a tortured hero. He cannot forget the men he has killed during the war, nor can he forget his own horrible brush with death and the surrounding gruesome chaos of the Waterloo battlefield. Certainly his experiences would have left scars on any sensitive person. His torment is very believable, as is the healing balm that True’s understanding provides.

I have read several books that use this particular scenario in the past few months. While this is not the best of them, it nevertheless did hold my interest and engaged my emotions. I enjoy stories that deal realistically with the problems that many men face trying to come to terms with the horrors they have experienced during war. Simpson has written a nicely drawn story of one man’s recovery, thanks to the love and understanding of a good woman.

--Jean Mason


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