Desert Isle Keeper
Belle of the Ball
Fortune hunters abound in traditional Regency Romance and, for the most part, they are not heroine material. They sidle up to the heroes at Almack’s. They gossip about the heroine. They dress in vulgar, albeit expensive, clothing and never get a husband unless he is old and depraved. At first glance it may seem surprising that the heroine of Donna Simpson’s Belle of the Ball is a fortune hunter. But this is a book with a recognizable person at its center. She may frustrate you, anger you and make you sad but she may also remind you of some charming manipulator in your own life. She may, in spite of all her foibles, make you weep for her, which is why this book is a Desert Isle Keeper for me.
As the story opens Arabella Swinley is beginning her final Season in London. Readers of Donna Simpson’s recent Miss Truelove Beckons will recognize Arabella as the spoiled young woman who was initially expected to marry the hero of that novel, Viscount Drake. For years Arabella has drifted through her Seasons rejecting suitor after suitor always with the idea that she could fall back on a marriage to Drake. But, as chronicled in Miss Truelove Beckons, Lord Drake fell in love with Arabella’s cousin True, not with Arabella. Now Arabella finds herself without the security of the “understanding” she thought she had. Arabella’s mother has announced that they are desperately short of funds and that it is all up to Arabella to save the family fortunes by marrying money in short order.
As a fortune hunter, Arabella has a number of challenges. Her recent breakup with a beau has left her open to gossip and the charge that she is a greedy opportunist. Over the last few years she has rejected a number of men with very little reason, thereby hurting her reputation. Lastly, time is short. She needs a betrothal now, to keep the butcher and money lenders happy. This need for speed has caused her to begin to look desperate. Arabella sinks into a vicious circle of panic and rejection.
Arabella’s troubles only get worse when she meets Marcus Westhaven, a charming man of modest means who has lived most of his life in Canada. From the start, Marcus sees Arabella for what she is but he likes her anyway. This is a man of confidence and grace. He talks to Arabella about Canada and is delighted by her sense of adventure and curiousity about the wilderness. Marcus is appalled by Arabella’s flagrant desire to marry a wealthy man but coming from Canada, a place where most men made their own way, he doesn’t completely understand her situation nor the fact that Arabella has no understanding of how a man of modest means manages to make a living.
What I liked about this book was the convincing way that Donna Simpson describes a woman who needs desperately to secure her future. Though she seems to be out for money alone, Arabella’s biggest problem is that Marcus never really declares himself. She is unsure of his affection and is afraid to abandon her mother’s plan for fear of losing everything. This situation struck me as heartbreakingly realistic. It is one thing to abandon money for a poor man who loves you. It is another thing entirely to say no to the fortune and discover that the poor man is not interested.
The secondary characters in this book are unusually well drawn and almost as memorable as the leads. Arabella’s selfish, tyrannical mother and her free-thinking friend Eveleen both stand out in my mind.
More and more I find that the heroes and heroines in romance novels run together in my mind. Even in books I like very much, I seldom remember the names of the lead characters. In Belle of the Ball I got a heroine who stands in memory as a real person.