by Mary Jo Putney, historical (2009)
Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-0328-1
Loving A Lost Lord is the first book in a new historical romance series by Mary Jo Putney. Naturally, this is a "band of brothers" kind of series - we have blue-blooded former juvenile delinquents who were taken in by the kindly but strong-willed Lady Agnes Westerfield and her companion Miss Emily. The kids left Westerfield Academy as honorable blokes that will make us all swoon in rapture.
When the story opens, we see three of these fellows taking a trip to Westerfield Manor to inform Lady Agnes that Adam Lawford, Lady Agnes' first student and the current Duke of Ashton, is thought to be dead. Did he die while spying, you ask? Or in a lethal duel with Napoleon Bonaparte himself in a fight to save a passel of starving kittens? No, he was said to have died while taking his experimental steam yacht out for a trial run. Of course he can't be dead - heaven forbid we let one of these guys rot in the earth and deprive us of another fabulous Band Of Brothers novel.
While his friends are combing the coasts of Scotland, hoping that Adam will show up on one of those beaches, our heroine Mariah Clarke finds a wounded fellow washed up on the shore near her Cumberland home Hartley Manor. Gee, I wonder who this fellow is.
Mariah has her own problems. A few weeks ago, her father left home, supposedly to mend fences with a family that had disowned him due to his wild ways in his youth. George Burke, the previous owner of Hartley, shows up one fine day to tell her that her father was killed by highwaymen. Worse, George claims that Hartley is still his - Mariah's father apparently cheated in a game of cards to wrest it from George and now George will get his lawyers to have Hartley formally returned to him. But he is willing to marry Mariah as a win-win solution for the both of them. As he puts it, the court proceedings would no doubt be expensive, he needs a wife, and she needs a place to stay.
Mariah, disillusioned by gamblers in general (she should know, her father was one), couldn't even consider the offer. Instead, she tells him that she is already married to a distant cousin who would be returning to her side any day now after his sojourn in the Peninsula killing French people and all. Of course, she has no husband, so she doesn't know what she will do now... until the mysterious fellow shows up on the shore one morning. When the man regains consciousness and shows no sign of remembering his past, she tells him that his name is Adam (really) and he is her husband. I don't know about you, but to me, this plan has "DISASTER" stamped all over it, especially when it's clear that Mariah hasn't completely thought out this grand plan of hers. But hey, romance heroines are good at coming up with plans like this one.
Mariah is a ninny and she is very lucky that Adam is a nice guy, or else she'd be a single mother rotting away in a poor house. Still, I have to hand it to Ms Putney: she makes me like Mariah despite the fact that the heroine seems to be on a collision course with disaster. This is a case of the author taking what could have been a cliché - a painful one at that - and turning the cliché around until Mariah comes off more like a misguided but earnest young lady who is essentially a nice person. She is just out of her depths, the poor thing. I also find it charming that Mariah, a lonely young lady with a father who was never a constant presence in her life, has created an imaginary sister named Sarah, whom she considers the pragmatic side of her. What could have been a painful stupid heroine on the loose has been subverted by Ms Putney into a likable and sweet, if naïve, young woman.
Adam is a pretty bland hero, though. He is like a reed here - he bends with the wind when it blows, so to speak. The revelations he is bombarded with in this story don't seem to faze him at all. When he learns of Mariah's lie, his reaction is pretty much, "Oh, okay. Uh... wanna go to Gretna Green? It's your call." On the bright side, his sanguine response to the various twists and turns his life throws his way goes a long way in keeping this story away from melodramatic big misunderstanding issues and such. His personality also complements Mariah's very nicely. She is given to flights of fancy and dramatic, if impractical, notions and concepts, so Adam's presence may just help her keep at least one foot on the ground.
The plot is... well, it's a little too dependent on lucky developments and unexpected coincidences for my liking. There are so many people returning from the dead here, for example, that I can only suspend my disbelief for so much. Still, the messy plot is adequate enough to provide some dramatic padding to the story. I am more enthusiastic about the romance between the likable characters. I like it a lot, in fact, so much so that I'm being more generous toward this book than I normally would.
All things considered, Loving A Lost Lord is a pleasant enough read to herald the author's return to historical romances.
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