Earlier this year, Jo Beverley passed away after a valiant battle with cancer. I had just read her latest offering. She pushed to finish it and fittingly it was to be her last Rogues book before she moved on to a new series in the Rogues’ world.
Jo Beverley’s legacy touched my reader girl heart for the last twenty years or so when I first discovered her books in my early attempts to read historical romance. I decided for this quarters’ Vintage Delight that I wanted to do a re-read of one of Jo’s earliest books when her writing was more raw and less developed, but showed so much promise for what was to come later. I actually read an older copy of this book from my shelf: An Avon Regency Romance from 1989 (I purchased it new) and chuckled over the older classic cover and the brittle yellowed pages. Talk about Vintage…haha!
This early series, Lovers & Ladies was a blend of historical romance and suspense which was a bonus in my book. I enjoyed making the comparison to later more mature writing, but also the fun spirit in the earlier books like this one. The romance is a tug o’ war sort and not as strongly developed, but the suspense was quite impressive as it had me pointing my finger in more than one direction.
Technically, the second book written in the Lovers & Ladies series, this was chronologically the first. Reading this one before or after Lord Wraybourne’s Betrothed does not matter. They are all loosely connected and it is my opinion that this series is the prototype for her later Rogues series as these too all feature young, handsome dashing men who all went to school together and each book are their romantic adventures.
The story opens with Justin Delamere being approached by a few higher ups in the British government. Justin has recently returned from the war and gotten out of the army to take his place as the new Viscount Stanforth after his cousin and then his uncle died leaving him to inherit. Justin is shocked to learn that the country estate is the seat of intrigue as an important document has gone missing that has both the French and British scrambling to recover it. Suspicion is on all who reside at the estate as that is as far as the document was traced. Justin is retained to spy on his own relations and discover the document. Arriving at his new home, he is struck once again by the beautiful Chloe and all the years he’s waited for his chance to court her and convince her they belong together.
Chloe Delamere, one of the widowed Lady Stanforths, is in a dither. She wants to be away, but knows she needs to stay to get Justin transitioned. Justin was the close associate of her late husband Stephen and helped her and Stephen elope. The scandal that resulted from her elopement she hopes to live down for good by snagging a staid, perfectly correct husband. Only, the attraction she feels for Justin and the fact that all her friends and close relations warn her that she will never be content with the sort of man she says she wants leaves her frustrated and confused. She is fooling no one including Justin that she is indifferent to him. But regardless, she resists because Justin isn’t the sort she wants as he was as wild as his cousin back in the day. Even if she can see the changes maturity and the war have brought, she doesn’t want to trust that things would be different. Then she is caught up in the mystery going on in the house and its residents. Murder, odd happenings, suspicion. And through it all her resistance to Justin grows weak.
For the most part, I enjoyed this one. I’ve always loved a country house party setting for a mystery and I have a soft spot for a second chance romance. The cast of characters were colorful and much of the dialogue was witty. Everything about this book appealed save one niggle. Chloe’s relentless denials that fooled no one got trying after a while as did her childish petulance when the men didn’t give her her way all the time. Truthfully, her character wasn’t developed in a way that impressed me as a mature woman ready for the love of a man like Justin. She is constantly trying to manipulate or sulk her way to get what she wanted.
But that said, I didn’t hate her and I did enjoy much of this book particularly the Duchess and Randal the way they worked their wiles to get Chloe and Justin together and helped to investigate.
So all in all, I enjoyed this dip into the past and the early writings of an author I adore. Those who enjoy classic historical romantic suspense should give this one and the series a try.
Romance Roundabout #231 HR
Mt. TBR #91
Oldies but Goodies #11
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