Royalist on the Run
I have to say, if I fell in love with a man and he abruptly ended our betrothal and dumped me in favor of another woman, I wouldn’t be too happy. And if he showed up on my doorstep years later and asked me to help him with his child from said other woman, I can think of things I would say, but none of them would be “yes.” As it turns out, the heroine of Royalist on the Run is way more tenderhearted than I and that turns out to be a good thing because her choices lead us into what ends up being a pretty good road romance. The hero needed to brush up on his groveling skills and there are a few rough plot points, but overall, I spent a fine afternoon reading this book.
Right off the bat, I liked that the author infused her story with conflict that sprang from a less obvious source. Most of the English Civil War romances I have read (admittedly few, since there don’t seem to be many out there) involve Royalist-Roundhead pairings. And that makes sense. After all, if the hero and heroine come from opposite sides of the conflict, the pairing will be charged with tension from the start. In this book, though, Dickson creates two Royalist characters and provides them with some past history rife with its own internal conflicts.
Colonel Sir Edward Grey and Lady Arabella Fairburn were betrothed as children, and Arabella in particular fell in love with Edward as they grew up, making him the star of all her wishes and dreams. Edward fell head over heels in lust with another woman and just as Arabella reached marriageable age, he ended their betrothal and married this other woman. Arabella found herself married off by her family to a man best described as “difficult” and both found themselves preoccupied by the ups and downs of the civil war that gripped England for the ensuing eight years.
As the story opens, King Charles I has been executed and Royalist fortunes are most definitely on the wane. Arabella’s husband died in battle and after selling many of their assets, Arabella has sought shelter and solace in her sister’s home, one of the few Royalist properties remaining unsequestered by the Parliamentary forces. It’s obvious from textual cues that times are hard and that the women and children left behind at this home are struggling for survival. Into all of this steps Edward. After being gone from Arabella’s life for eight years, he has now come to her and her sister in desperation. He knows that the end is nigh for his side and he is now a widower with a toddler son. He is in hiding with the boy and he feels like Arabella may be one of the few trustworthy people he has ever known. So, he comes begging her to help him with his son on a journey and since as a Royalist colonel, he is a wanted man, and he wants her to be there to continue the trip without him in the event he is arrested.
Arabella is understandably not thrilled to see Edward again and probably would have sent him packing. However, her soft-hearted sister is moved by pity for the child. And since it’s the sister’s house after all, Arabella becomes a reluctant hostess to Edward and his son. Since Arabella is not a jerk, she doesn’t hold a poor, misplaced toddler accountable for anything his parents did and she does end up becoming rather attached to the boy. She also starts falling for Edward in slow increments as well. As Parliamentary soldiers and various dangers move closer to the home, Edward decides that he must flee to France to join the court in exile there. Dressed as a country farmer and his wife, Edward and Arabella set out for the coast.
The reconciliation between Edward and Arabella is actually quite nice. I liked that Arabella didn’t just get stricken with insta-love when Edward first appeared. Given that her fiancé dumped her, which in those days limited her marriage prospects, I would have been very surprised to see her treat this as no big deal. For his part, Edward understands what he did as well. He regrets it (and eventually tells Arabella so), which is good, but I still would have liked to see him do more to make it up to her.
Edward, Arabella, the war and their great escape all make for interesting reading. Frankly, if the author had left the plotting there, this book would probably have been just fine. But instead she throws in villains who each have personal animus toward the leads, and these really aren’t necessary. One of these does help move the plot along, but the other just feels terribly unnecessary – and the foreshadowing in that part of the story is incredibly heavyhanded.
Even with these quibbles, I did enjoy Royalist on the Run. I like a good road romance, and this one had both a romance and a historical setting that worked well for me.