A Lady of Secret Devotion
A Lady of Secret Devotion is the third book of the Ladies of Liberty series, which are all about women at work in Philadelphia in the 1800s, but it stands on its own. While it was a pleasant read, at times, it seemed too pleasant – because other than the villain and his cohorts, most of the main characters were so nice to each other. This meant that the conflict had to come from external forces, and sometimes those forces depended on coincidences.
Cassie Stover helps her widowed mother make ends meet at her laundry service, but their life has been a struggle ever since her father’s untimely death. When she helps an elderly woman in a park, Cassie happens upon a position as companion to a wealthy fellow parishioner, Mrs. Jameston. Suddenly Cassie finds herself in a new world, living in a grand house filled with servants. Cassie even gets new dresses and the services of Mrs. Jameston’s maid.
Of course, there’s a catch – Mrs. Jameston’s son, Sebastian, has been a sorry excuse for a son. What his mother doesn’t know is that he recently shot and killed an insurance investigator, getting shot in the process. The wounded Sebastian demands shelter from his mother and imposes himself on the staff. Meanwhile, Mark Langford, another insurance investigator, searches for his friend’s killer – and becomes attracted to Cassie.
Cassie and Mark pretend to be courting so that they can work together to bring his friend’s killer to justice. Meanwhile, Cassie becomes increasingly worried about Sebastian’s misdeeds, fearing for Mrs. Jameston even as she must fend off his unwanted advances. Just how dangerous could he be?
One thing that struck me about this novel was that outside of murder, the villainous Sebastian wasn’t different from some romance heroes. How often have we read novels where the hero keeps a mistress, blames his mother for everything, and makes passes at the innocent heroine? How refreshing it was to read a book where this guy gets to be the villain. However, he was often too clumsy a villain. Sure, he was dangerous, but if he had been more subtle, he would have been scarier. Instead, he often came across as whiny, and it was hard to imagine his mother, as guilty as she felt about his childhood, putting up with him for so long. As kind as she was, Mrs. Jameston came across as an “enabler” where her son was concerned. After all, she let him get away with forcing himself on a servant and who knows what else in the past.
Cassie, on the other hand, is kind yet outspoken, the daughter Mrs. Jameston never had. She is understanding, modest, and when needed, brave – although luckily, she’s not “feisty.” She is a believer, of course, even feeling guilty about the deception behind the false engagement. The widowed Mark is a beta hero – a nice contrast to Sebastian. Although the engagement is fake, it’s obvious the two are “smitten” with each other (to borrow a term from Mrs. Jameston), but there are some issues to be worked through. Besides the death of his wife, he also has to deal with the murder of his friend and avoid becoming trapped by feelings of revenge. As part of his growth, Mark has to find his own path to God, rather than following the path left by others.
Although this is an inspirational romance, the inspirational elements didn’t get in my way. Belief is always a part of the characters’ lives, but they avoid quoting the Bible at each other, unlike some other inspirational romances. Only near the end does the “faith” element of the story really kick in as part of Mark’s character arc. One thing that did make it obvious that this was an inspirational story was the way the heroic characters were so good to each other that they sometimes came across as too good to be true. This is the kind of novel where Mrs. Jameston apologizes for calling her son a “scallywag” – never mind that he once forced himself on one of her servants and constantly berates his mother. Cassie doesn’t just get a great new position – she gets a friend in Mrs. Jameston, devoted servants, a lovely room. It’s like a wish fulfillment fantasy, with Sebastian as the wicked prince and Mark as the white knight.
While the book is well written, at times, the pace is too leisurely. Also, some coincidences the plot kept this from being a great read. For example, several chapters into the story, we learn that Cassie is terrified of horses. This is how she meets Mark, and it’s like a bolt of the blue. While Mark helps her get over her fear, I was sure this would play a bigger part in the conclusion. On top of that, a major event happens out of left field near the end, and I thought it dragged out the action unnecessarily.
Despite my quibbles, I enjoyed this book because of its easygoing style, and I plan to read one of the prolific Tracie Peteron’s more recent books. The American setting is refreshing to me because outside of inspirationals, historical romances often ignore these rich settings.