How to Woo a Reluctant Lady
How to Woo at Reluctant Lady is the third book in Sabrina Jeffries’ Hellions of Halstead Hall series and it does not function well as a stand-alone book. That is fine with me because I have read the first two books in the series, but if you haven’t, don’t start here. There are five Sharpe siblings, each of whom will have their own book. The Sharpes are orphans being raised by their middle-class grandmother after their parents, Lord and Lady Stoneville, were shot and killed when the children were small. The cause of those deaths is a mystery whose plot line runs through the series in a way that demands a reader begin with book one, The Truth about Lord Stoneville, and then read the others in subsequent sibling order.
How to Woo a Reluctant Lady is the best of the series so far in large part because it tells the story of one of the Sharpe sisters — Minerva — a more unusual a protagonist than either of her older brothers. Minerva is a successful writer of gothic novels, and one of the joys of this book is seeing the world through her writer’s gaze. Minerva is smart, droll, and insightful and it’s fun to watch her take her world and turn it into the stuff of novels. And while she is, of course, beautiful and blessed with a “lushly feminine” form, our hero Giles Masterson admires her intelligence and wit as much as he desires her in his bed.
Giles, whom long-term Ms. Jeffries fans will remember from Wed Him before You Bed Him (he is the younger brother of that book’s hero), is many things at thirty-four. He is a successful barrister, a spy for the Crown, a known rogue, and Minerva’s childhood love. Unfortunately for Giles, ten years ago he kissed and then dissed nineteen-year-old Minerva and she’s been skewering him in her books ever since by making him over into the fictional villainous French (!) spy Rockton. One of the great jokes in the book is everyone in Minerva’s life sees themselves in her characters — her brother Oliver, Lord STONEville, is convinced that he is ROCKton. But Giles recognizes details about his character that no one other than he and Minerva would know — their first kiss was part of Minerva’s first book — and he knows that Minerva is writing about him. This poses a serious problem for him because on the night of that first kiss — the real one —Minerva saw him stealing documents from a peer and, were Minerva to put that scene in her books, Giles worries his role as a secret spy for the Crown might be discovered.
So, when Minerva has to marry within a year — a condition the Sharpes’ grandmother has forced on all five of her grandchildren because they are all behaving like hellions — Giles asks for her hand in exchange for her ceasing her fictional depictions of him. Minerva, who believes her grandmother will never let her actually marry such a rake, says yes. And while Minerva thinks the courtship is a sham, Giles does not. He is strongly drawn to Minerva, physically and mentally, and he sets about wooing his reluctant lady with great skill and charm.
I have very few quibbles with this book. There are too many scenes involving her older brothers who have gone from dreadfully wanton rakes to stuffy married men obsessed with their sister’s propriety. The mystery isn’t very interesting and it takes too long for Giles to tell Minerva his big secret. But, the small flaws in this book are outweighed by its pleasures. When she’s writing well, Ms. Jeffries writes really well. One of the best scenes in the book occurs when Giles, trying to show Minerva that he really is a damn good catch, has her spend a day watching him practice law in the famed Old Bailey. Ms. Jeffries gives us a detailed glimpse of that court, full of interesting and anachronistic details. The love scenes between Minerva and Giles are sexy and varied without being overblown. And the love that grows between the couple is nice to see — Giles and Minerva each becomes the other’s biggest fan and together they create a lovely, very equal relationship.
At the end of the novel, three of the five Hellions have been tamed. Here’s hoping the stories of the last two, Gabriel and Celia, are as well done as Minerva’s.