A Proposal to Risk Their Friendship
A Proposal to Risk Their Friendship is book five in Louise Allen’s Regency-set Liberated Ladies series, but although I haven’t read the previous books and the heroes and heroines of those stories do make brief appearances in this one, they’re very much in supporting roles and this book works perfectly well as a standalone. I liked the leads, their relationship is well-written, and they have strong chemistry, but their friendship springs up too quickly for it to be completely believable, which caused me to knock my final grade down a bit.
Lord Henry Cary meets Miss Melissa Taverner in rather unusual circumstances. They’re both taking the air in the gardens of a grand house where they’re attending a ball, and intervene to prevent a young lady being dragged away against her will. Returned to the ballroom afterwards, Henry spots the tall, dark-haired rescuer and approaches her to congratulate her on her tactics. She introduces herself, makes Henry known to her circle of friends (which includes a duke, a marquess and two earls and their wives – the heroes and heroines of the previous books in the series) and before he departs, Henry asks if he may call on her to make sure that Harlby – the man she ran off – doesn’t make a nuisance of himself.
Spirited and intelligent, Melissa managed to persuade her father to allow her to live independently in London with only her somewhat absent-minded aunt as chaperone. Her parents’ marriage has not given her an especially favourable opinion of the institution – her father is a “domestic tyrant” – and at twenty-five, she’s decided it’s not for her. Instead, she will satisfy herself with her very good friends and her writing; she’s already written articles for a variety of popular journals and is writing a novel (or several) she hopes to publish, too.
When Henry calls the day after the ball, he’s pleasantly surprised at the ease with which he and Melissa fall into conversation and finds himself intrigued. He’s simultaneously not quite sure what to make of her and amused and invigorated by her conversation – and he invites her to walk in the park with him the next day.
This walk engenders further open conversation, and even though they acknowledge that they hardly know each other, they both realise that they feel comfortable with one another in a way that doesn’t happen very often. Henry suggests they’re “friends at first sight” – and before long they’re on first-name terms and telling each other more about their lives and backgrounds. Melissa tells Henry about her family, her decision not to marry and her writing; he tells her about his diplomatic work, his family and his parents’ uninspiring marriage.
At their next outing, Henry swears Melissa to secrecy and tells her that he’s been tasked with keeping an eye on a possible French spy (bear in mind this is official business, and they’ve known each other three days). Melissa tells Henry about her suspicions that the despicable Harlby is planning to contract a fake marriage with an – as yet unknown – heiress. She has already alerted her friends to this, and between them, they plan to go to as many social events as possible in to track down Harlby’s target and warn her; if she and Henry arrange to attend events together as well, not only will they be able to help foil Harlby’s dastardly plan, but they will also be able to watch Henry’s quarry, too. It’s the perfect solution to both problems.
Henry and Melissa are insightful, intelligent and witty, and their relationship is refreshingly honest; their discussions are lively and interesting, and they both learn from each other as together, they thwart Harlby’s dastardly plan – only to end up in hot water themselves. In fact, I liked a lot about this story – but I had a real problem with the speed at which Harry and Melissa’s friendship develops. They talk and behave like people who have known each other for years rather than people who have spent just a few hours together, and for Henry to involve Melissa in his spy-hunting seemed highly irresponsible. (Not to say unprofessional.)
But as any Nora Ephron fan knows, men and women can never really be friends, and of course the sex thing gets in the way for this Regency Harry and Sally as well. Henry and Melissa start to realise that they’re attracted to each other and worry about what might happen to their friendship if the other finds out how they feel. The author seeds the gradual transition from friendship to attraction to love throughout the story and creates palpable chemistry between the couple so that the progression feels organic. I liked that they were determined to respect each other’s boundaries, but both are hung up on the fact that they believe the other isn’t interested in anything more than friendship, leading to a bit of late-book conflict which, thankfully, isn’t allowed to drag on for too long.
Had the progression of the friendship in A Proposal to Risk Their Friendship been more credible, I’d have been giving the book a higher grade and a stronger recommendation. If you can get past that however, you’ll find much to enjoy – likeable characters who (mostly) communicate well and who speak and act like adults, subtle social commentary and a well-written romance.