Dear Mrs. Hoyt,
Your books work for me. What else can I say? I believe in these characters. I believe in the circumstances you place them in. I believe the ways you make them act. I want them to find happiness and when they do, I’m thrilled. When Jane sent out a DA email asking for our recommendations for May, I realized I, once again, needed to get off my ass and read. I just now finished the book and am happy as a clam at high tide.
Sir Alistair Munroe thinks his life is the way he wants it. Living alone, except for a surly, lazy manservant, in a dirty castle in a remote part of Scotland while he works on his latest book on the flora and fauna of the British Isles. Therefore, when a woman with two children presents herself at his door as his new housekeeper, he knows she’s lying. He doesn’t want her or her children in his life, thank you very much, now go away.
Helen Halifax can’t afford to let this beastly man turn her way. On the run from her former protector the Duke of Lister, she must find a place to hide herself and her children. Lister doesn’t love her, probably never has, but what he thinks is his stays his. He manipulated Helen once by taking away their infant daughter and she’s under no illusions that he’d do it again and this time permanently.
So, she gathers her courage, straightens her spine and goes about thwarting Alistair’s intentions to see them gone. Amazed to find himself yielding to Helen’s machinations, Alistair gives her one week to prove to him that he’s better off with these changes in his life. But when Helen and her children, Abigail and Jamie, are finished with him, he might discover a future he never dared dream of.
I’ve been anticipating Alistair’s story since we met him in the previous book of the series, “To Seduce a Sinner.” He’s one of the surviving men of the ambush at Spinner’s Falls and the one most physically scarred by the event. A naturalist, Alistair was attached to the 28th Foot when they were attacked by the French and their Huron allies. And along with a few other men, he was taken back to their camp and tortured for days before rescue arrived.
But like Jasper Renshaw, he’s learned that the pain he suffered then was only the beginning. His face, now hideously scarred, and his hand, missing two fingers, will always set him apart from most men. For the rest of his life, he must endure the stares, screams and shrinking back of his fellow man. I found it entirely understandable that he wants little to do with people and prefers to avoid inflicting his looks on others.
Alistair immediately thinks that Helen is probably the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. But like he, Helen has learned that her face won’t bring her happiness. Impulsive by nature, she fell for a man who, though she knew he would never marry her, she thought at least loved her. It took her years to discover she’d thrown away her family and the respect of the world to be nothing more than a plaything controlled by a man only because he can.
She’s determined to get away from that because she doesn’t want her children to be at risk of being taken from her and she’s decided that she’s worth more than this half life. Helen and Alistair both accept their past and how it will affect their futures. Neither thinks that marriage is an option and both fear being rejected for what they now are. As such, I found the conflict to be a product of the backgrounds you’ve given them and not some flimsy excuse to avoid finishing the story too quickly.
Helen’s love of her children jumps off the page. For them, she risks ostracism in the parks of London, flees a comfortable, though precarious, life under the Duke’s protection and is willing to risk everything to start a new life. For them she will fight and strive and endure.
I found myself identifying a bit with Abigail for I was also a quiet child who thought a lot and sometimes preferred to be alone to think. And any adult can probably recall chance events which they at the time thought to be the result of their actions or wishes. I laughed when Alistair’s older sister commiserated with Abigail about the need to deal with younger brothers.
Alistair’s love for Abigail and Jamie starts slowly. Well, it would after one’s face has caused them to scream and shrink back. The breakthroughs to tolerance, affection and then willingness to fight for them as hard as does their mother are incremental and totally believable. What I liked is that the change is not without it’s missteps. For each time that Alistair gets it right – teaching Abigail trout fishing, starting both children on the road to being budding naturalists – he sometimes screws it up – as with the satchel peed on by a puppy.
And it is because of this love Alistair feels for them, even though he might not realize he does at the time, that allows me to excuse what he says to Helen once he discovers her secret. Alistair calls her some harsh things to her face that, while technically true, are barely a step up from slapping her. When I read this part I thought, “there are going to be a lot of readers who get pissed off at him at this point.” But I could see that he is overwhelmed at Helen’s past that has suddenly been thrust upon him and that he worries about how the children’s bastard status will affect them for life.
Once the danger from the villain is removed, and I think Alistair goes about spiking those guns rather cleverly, I will admit to being happy that all is not magically turned to rainbows and fluffy bunnies in the lives of Helen or the children. She was a mistress and the children are bastards and nothing will change that. Their close friends and some family may accept them but to most of polite society, they will probably forever be beyond the pale. Books in which such ostracized characters find widespread social acceptance, while giving readers warm fuzzies, always make me cringe a bit since I can never quite get over my doubts about them.
I do have one thing that bothered me about the story. Most of it takes place in Scotland and when Alistair and Helen traveled down to London, they presented themselves as “Mr. and Mrs. Munroe” and had obviously consummated their relationship. So…what about Scottish marriage laws? Having done what they did, doesn’t that mean that they are already married way before Alistair proposes to Helen in that lovely scene?
As always, I found the “fairy tale” told over the course of the book to be almost as entertaining as the actual story. And after reading the preview of the next book the only thing I can say is, “Holy Shit!” and “Can I wait until November?” But then I guess I don’t have much of a choice before finally discovering the identity of the traitor and what really happened six years ago in the wilds of the Colonies. A-