Note: Liz won a copy of this book in our Pocket Preview giveaway and offered up a review. I could not say no to good content. Thanks Liz.
Dear Miss Jeffries,
A Hellion in Her Bed is the second in your Hellions of Halstead Hall series; the hellion of the title is book's hero, Lord Jarret Sharpe. He subscribes to most of the usual Regency romance hellion habits, the most significant of which to this story's plot is that he's a card sharp.
He's also an irritation to his grandmother, who raised Jarret and his siblings after the scandalous death of his father and mother (presumed to be a murder-suicide, although questions have been recently raised) and he is in Gran Irritation Mode when the book opens.
Gran runs the family brewery, Plumtree, and she has taken ill. Not so ill she can't remind her grandson of her ultimatum that he marry within the year or be disinherited – a threat he soon skirts – but ill enough that she needs Jarret to take over the family concern. However, when he arrives at the brewery, he finds Annabel Lake waiting for him.
Annabel is a brewer; her brother, Hugh, owns Lake Ale in Burton. Annabel hopes to convince Gran – or now, Jarret – to partner with Lake Ale in selling the brewery's October beer and bolster both their businesses. Jarret doesn't want to do it, although Annabel and her proposition intrigue him.
It quickly becomes clear that the only reasonable way to settle such an important business matter – one that affects not only the livelihoods of the Sharpe and Lake families but also the livelihoods of hundreds of brewery workers – is to play a sexually-charged game of whist.
So that's what Jarret and Annabel do. Annabel proves better than Jarret expected and when Jarret is distracted for a moment, Annabel wins. So it's off to see Lake Ale and cobble out the details of the arrangement.
It's established early on that Annabel is no virtuous miss. When she was 16, she enjoyed one night of passion with Rupert, her first love, after which he died a war hero and she was left in a delicate condition. The result is Geordie, a child who she bore in secret and gave to her brother Hugh and sister-in-law Sissy to raise.
It's to the benefit of the book that Hugh, Sissy, Annabel and Geordie are a family: They are genuinely kind to each other, and treat each other with respect. Part of the reason Annabel has never married is because to do so she would have to leave her son – or take him with to her new home, revealing to her future husband and child the truth of Geordie's origins. The potential scorn she would bring on Geordie – as well as her brother and Sissy – is enough to bring her serious pause. And she would have to leave the brewery business, something she also cannot bear to do.
Unfortunately, Hugh has had some recent, uh, elbow trouble. After a downturn in the Russian beer market (in Mother Russia, beer drinks you!), he began knocking back the whiskey.
Storytelling-wise, this was a delicate area, and I thought Jeffries handled it well: She let it be known that Hugh wasn't always in this trouble, just going through a bad patch. That way, when he stopped a third of the way through the book, I didn't feel as if he'd been handed a miraculous snake oil cure. It was only that he had pulled his head out of the bottle and gotten himself back on track, which – even with my somewhat extensive personal experience with alcoholism – seemed probable, considering what we knew about his previous history.
What I liked most about Annabel was that she was not the guilty type. At times, she acknowledged feelings of guilt – about Rupert's death, about lying to her son and to Jarret about Hugh's mysterious illness – but it wasn't what drove her. She had done things about which she was not proud, but it wasn't a millstone around her neck.
Jarret, by contrast, was the one layered with emotional baggage. After the death of his parents, he felt that fate was fickle; the feeling intensified after he was bundled off to school. He tried not to care about people and property (a typical hellion affliction, I have noticed) and, of course, didn't realize how much he had come to care about Annabel. When he did, he still had difficulty expressing it properly.
Consider his clunky marriage proposal:
"A legitimate connection," she repeated dully. Amazing how he managed to make a marriage sound like a business arrangement.
"It would be great for Lake Ale," he said, as if he thought that was her only objection. "People would see our association as a family thing, which would give more weight to our new project. The East India men would be assured that I could follow through. Or make your brother follow through."
He was right. And with every word, he drove another nail in her heart.
What I didn't understand was why Jarret reacted so poorly when he discovered the truth about Hugh's mysterious illness. As a so-called "hellion," I felt he should be slightly more forgiving; I mean, isn't he supposed to be sleeping in gutters six nights a week himself? Kettle, pot. Pot, kettle. But he recovered quickly enough, I suppose, so points to him in the end.
The relationship between Geordie and Jarret was a gentle joy. Children are a dicey prospect in romances; they're often so twee as to make me feel I've got a cavity coming on, or they serve only as obstacles. Geordie veered into the latter territory at the end, but by this time, he had my support, so I was willing to look the other way.
Jeffries has a way of taking common romance scenarios and weaving interesting historical information into the story in a way that doesn't make me feel like I can see the infrastructure that holds the whole thing up. (For example: An heiress school is common. But chemistry that could kill, or at least maim? That's interesting. Hellions are common. But Mr. Darcy in a brewery? That's interesting. And frankly, kind of hot.) I can't think of any other author that does this quite as consistently, or as well. Although I would say A Hellion in Her Bed was a bit more sweet than saucy, especially as compared to some of her other romances, it worked for me nevertheless.
Also, there's no need to read the first in the book; I confess that I didn't, but I picked up on the general narrative arc quite easily: the Marquess and Marchioness, Jarett's parents, were presumed to be a murder-suicide, but recent events have encouraged everyone familiar with the situation to believe it was something more sinister. Read on and all will be revealed, etc.
As for A Hellion in Her Bed, I would call it a solid B.