Desert Isle Keeper
A Hero to Hold
We’ve talked before here about books from the past that perhaps we have only just stumbled upon. Well, here’s one I came across just a week ago. For the life of me, I can’t remember where I saw A Hero to Hold, but I am so glad I did because it’s one of the best books I have read this year.
I like books with an angsty flavour. I like damaged war heroes and I like heroines who, though fundamentally mature and clever, are still unsure of themselves. This book has all of these ingredients plus a few more. For one, it’s set in the period of the Crimean War – a timeframe not often used in historical romance. Another is that it has a cast of very well drawn secondary characters. And, finally, it has a twist I did not see coming which I won’t spoil by discussing.
Charlotte is the daughter of a very rich and self-made man whose ambition drowns out any fatherly intentions with a wash of nastiness and intolerance. He wants a titled grandson – more than he wants happiness for his daughter, and Charlotte is, as might be expected, married off to an aristocrat who trades his title for her vast dowry. He shames her with his affairs, and his lover writes a roman a clef that causes a scandal and ruins Charlotte’s standing in society. Her husband is murdered and she manages a modicum of peace and relief in her widowhood.
David Scott is the younger brother of an earl. He comes from a very happy family background and along with two close classmates from Eton, he joins the cavalry and winds up in the midst of the Crimean War. He sustains life-changing injuries in battle and is subsequently one of the very first recipients of the Victoria Cross – which to this day is the UK’s highest military decoration for valour in face of the enemy. However, he must go through the expected period of adjustment and acceptance, anger and angst, but comes out a very well balanced individual who decides to take up a position running a (very real) charity devoted to helping the widows and orphans of fallen soldiers.
Charlotte decides she needs a focus in her life and so manages to get a position at the charity working under David, whom she has never met before. We then are introduced to various secondary characters who all add much value to the story: Mr Chetney, a secretary in the charity, David’s comrades, a family of orphans and Charlotte’s best friend, Jane.
I won’t spoil the rest of the story but needless to say David and Charlotte fight an attraction but eventually begin an affair as neither believes that they want or are worthy of marriage. The author’s descriptions of their sexual encounters are extremely well done and I found them to be some of the best I’ve encountered in a long time. Not steamy but very much to the point and it is very clear that they love each other and enjoy each other’s bodies and minds.
True love never runs smoothly, and so David and Charlotte wind up confused, angry, hostile and both make some bad choices. Being a romance, of course things are ironed out in the end but it takes a while and the difficulties they both face are believable and well-drawn.
This is not a light or amusing story though it has a very welcome HEA. The principals and many of the secondary characters deal with a personal crisis of one sort or the other. Even Persa, the little dog Charlotte adopts, faces a near death experience (hankies to the ready), but even that episode is a fundamental part of the plot. And the plot is clever, well done, believable and makes for a very satisfying read. I didn’t want it to end and would be very pleased to learn that some of the secondary characters got their own stories.
I believe A Hero to Hold may have been Sheri Humprheys’ début. If it was, then she certainly deserves praise for it. I loved it and will now be looking into the rest of her oeuvre.
~ Elaine S.