Desert Isle Keeper
An Earl, the Girl and a Toddler
Vanessa Riley’s Rogues and Remarkable Women series continues apace with An Earl, a Girl and a Toddler, the heartbreaking but ultimately exhilarating story of lady’s maid Jemima St. Maur.
While readers definitely remember Jemina from the first book in the series (A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby), she does not remember much about her own life. Fished free of a shipwreck with no memory and nothing to her name but the clothing on her back, Jemina can only remember that she had tried to flee Jamaica on a ship bound for London. When she is unable to give an explanation to the questioning authorities, she is sent to the infamous Bedlam.
Barrister Daniel Thackery has also lost mightily in the same shipwreck. Phoebe Dunn, the young woman he’d fallen in love with via their correspondence, and married by proxy was traveling from Jamaica on the same ship as Jemina, but she died, and when Daniel tries to find out what happened to her, an aide worker shoves Phoebe’s infant daughter, Hope, into his arms. Daniel is stunned and heartbroken – for the loss of Phoebe, and the fact that Phoebe had not told him she was a mother – but he vows to dedicate himself to Hope’s wellbeing after the infant bonds with him.
Two years later, Daniel, who has spent all of his time focused on Hope and his career, has uncomfortably entered the peerage as the Earl of Ashbrook. Putting himself back on the marriage mart forces him to keep a secret close to his chest; he is also an undercover barrister-for-hire for The Widow’s Grace, a charity organization that provides redress for widows who have been maligned by the social strata of the Ton or other forces, allowing them to reclaim their property and children through legal means. Though Daniel’s secret double life makes him uncomfortable, as the organization tries to push hard at the social boundaries hemming it in, since Lady Shrewsbury, head of the organization, is his aunt, he cannot really say no. Lady Shrewsbury wants Daniel to use the favor entering the peerage has gained him with the Prince Regent to bring the complaints of The Widow’s Grace to the House of Lords, but his concern remains with Hope – he has been receiving threats he is determined to deal with on his own.
Jemina and Daniel literally bump into one another outside of Lady Shrewsbury’s apartments, and sparks instantly fly. Jemina has been sprung from Bedlam thanks to Daniel’s good work, and she and Paitence work as agents for The Widow’s Grace, a fact that scandalizes Daniel, who describes Jemina as “gentle but loud.” For Daniel, who has spent his whole life keeping his head down – his family’s notorious reputation means he has dedicated himself to a life of justice and calm living so he can keep custody of his beloved Hope.
Jemina, meanwhile, is in desperate pursuit of her past – she cannot account for her missing months in Jamaica – including a marriage – and she has no idea why she was fleeing the island. With the help of Patience, all clues point to Daniel knowing more than he’s letting on. She gets closer to him to get her hands on his information but, well – feelings interfere…
An Earl, a Girl and a Toddler is definitely buoyed by several things – a hero who earns the right to his cinnamon roll-hood but is no pushover; a heroine who has experienced the worst of Regency-era London but is determined to reclaim her life, and a romance that is restrained and yet touched with steamy tension. Genuine period detail, and a great portrait of how difficult it was to be a woman, to be Black, to be biracial, to be considered mentally ill, during the Regency.
I adored Daniel, who’s one of my favorite heroes of 2021 so far. Loving and fierce, a believer in the law who would do anything in the name of justice, he is a good man who tries to do good things, and is honorable, sexy and smart as every good hero should be.
Jemina is fierce and loving as well, and her determination to reclaim who she is makes her story a powerful one to follow – she is relentless, and nothing and no one can hold her back, even though they try.
The romance is fierce and filled with tension and warmth – just what a cinnamon roll and a gentlewoman deserve – but stays firmly in PG territory; there is much passionate kissing but nothing more than that. Yet the intellectual and spiritual connection between the characters glimmers through.
I liked quiet Hope, and the ever prickly and plainspoken Lady Shrewsbury, and it was wonderful to see Patience again.
Riley’s writing and research, as always, is thorough, beautifully committed to the page and gorgeously handled. You will feel like a richer, better person after reading this book.
My one quibble is that, while the plot moves along at a decent clip, the big twist was pretty self-evident. But the book is less about getting to that major revelation (which happens around the midpoint) and more about how the characters handle it.
An Earl, The Girl, and a Toddler is a thought-provoking and touching romance that’s bracing, beguiling, and emotionally satisfying.