Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Connie Brockway
2013, European Historical Romance
Avon, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0062107380
Two years after collaborating on The Lady Most Likely, Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway reunite again in The Lady Most Willing. Like the first book, this isn’t an anthology, but with each author putting her own unique spin on a certain couple falling in love during a contrived stay at a Scottish castle, the book seems more like three short stories.
European Historical Romance (1819 Scotland)
The book starts out with a bang – in the guise of a kidnapping. Taran Ferguson, after imbuing a little too much contraband whiskey, comes up with the brilliant plan of snatching wealthy brides for his two nephews from the English Earl of Maycott’s house party. The plan seems to go off without a hitch, until the women are unloaded from the carriage. Along with heiresses Miss Marilla Chisholm, Miss Fiona Chisholm, and Lady Cecily Tarleton, Taran has also kidnapped Catriona Burns, a Scottish lass with no money, and John Shevington, the Duke of Bretton. Since both Catriona and the Duke are unexpected they are left in the sitting room while sleeping accommodations are found for them. From the very beginning, Catriona’s matter-of-fact acceptance of her situation and her humor charm John. Since the weather has played into Taran’s hand, snowing the group in, John has plenty of opportunities to discover Catriona’s alluring attributes.
Catriona readily accepts that she is not considered a marital prize because of her social standing. Still, after meeting John Shevington, she does wish that her circumstances were different. It is difficult watching Marilla make an obvious play for a man she finds so very attractive.
This is cute story with an appealing heroine and hero if you are able to accept that a woman with no money or title is completely at ease with someone from the highest rank of nobility. Catriona is so comfortable with him that she is able to tell him slightly bawdy stories, and tease him into laughter. Imbued within the story are fairly predictable humorous scenarios, but they still made me laugh. The heroine's lack of uneasiness around the Duke and the length of their courtship tested my willingness to suspend belief, but overall I liked the story.
In the second story, Eloisa James matches reserved Miss Fiona Chisholm, a woman with a past, with straitlaced, unbending Bryon Wotton, Earl of Oakley, a man raised solely by his humorless, misogynist father. Bryon’s envy of John’s besotted demeanor and his discomfort after being told by his uncle that he is a pompous, narrow-minded turnip induce him to make a wildly irrational decision to court Marilla Chisholm, even though he doesn’t quite approve of her. But it is Miss Fiona Chisholm that captures his interest.
Miss Fiona Chisholm’s life was irreparably changed by the heedless actions of Dugald Trotter, her boorish, daft fiancé. After she rebuffed his over familiarity, he decided to break into her room by climbing the outside ivy. He fell to his death before even reaching her room, but Fiona is still labeled a heartless fornicator. Now five years later, she has few regrets, even though she has had to put up with ill-treatment from society and her half-sister Marilla. She encourages the Earl of Oakley’s interest in Marilla, even as she is highly aware of his handsome countenance.
Of the three stories, this is my least favorite. I found Bryon’s characterization uneven. First he is straitlaced, then he is motivated to change, fearing that he is becoming his father. However, the big dénouement has him reverting to type and then with the resolution, he changes again. Again the length of time of the courtship is a little problematic especially with their conflict. Still, their story is very readable.
The last story by Connie Brockway matches Taron’s favorite destitute nephew and heir Robert Parles, known as Robin, with Lady Cecily Tarleton. Immediately upon meeting Lady Cecily, Robin is captivated, but he knows that his worthless French title and his lack of funds places her way beyond his reach. Also his dissolute reputation as a rake does him no favors. To his uncle's dismay, he spends most of the time avoiding Cecily’s company.
Lady Cecily has been content to follow society’s dictates because she hasn’t had anything to motivate her outside of those confines. But one look at Robin, and she knows that she has found the man she wants to marry. Still, even with encouragement, Robin seems determined to ignore the attraction between them. How can Lady Cecily make him accept that they are perfect for each other, and that the impediments to their match pale in comparison to living without him?
Of all the couples, Lady Cecily and Robin are my favorite. Robin is attempting to do the right thing, even though his emotions tell him otherwise, and Lady Cecily has to dig deep within herself to find the courage to fight for her heart’s desire.
Initially I had problems with reading the three stories back to back because of plot similarities, like the manipulative cunning ingénue sex kitten and the precipitous length of the courtships. I waited a few days and then read each story individually, and at this point found all the stories were consistently enjoyable. If you are fond of short stories, then you should enjoy this latest release by three very popular historical writers.
-- Leigh Davis
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