Beware of Virtuous Women
I pride myself on keeping pretty up to date on what’s forthcoming in all the genres I like to read, yet somehow I missed a new series by a favorite author. Missing new books by an author you like is a very bad thing. But once you discover the books, well, that’s like found money. Now there are books to backtrack and read. And after finishing the latest in Ms. Michael’s Romney Marsh series, read them I will.
The Beckets are the organizing force behind smuggling in Romney Marsh. Jack promised to discover the fate of his cousin who was mixed up in smuggling and disappeared. He’s worked hard to be accepted by Ainsley Becket and his family; by creating an alliance, he now has entre into the smuggling world. What he didn’t count on was the Becket family’s effect. They have drawn him in and now Jack works to protect them. His investigations into the losses they’ve suffered lead him to the Red Men – a ruthless rival smuggling gang intent on controlling the entire trade. To head them off, Jack will head to London – where the Red Men’s controllers reside. Jack plans to infiltrate and join society, and to do that he needs someone to play his wife. Enter Eleanor.
The Beckets are a large and rambunctious family. Over a number of years, Ainsley Becket collected children and raised them as his own. Eleanor is the oldest of his daughters and is considered on-the-shelf and destined to care for Ainsley when all the others have moved out. Eleanor cultivated that belief; she made herself the quiet center of their domestic storm, and she works hard at controlling her emotions at all times. Her goals are upset when she hears the news that Jack Eastwood brings. For her own reasons, Eleanor is determined to join Jack in London.
Kick-ass heroines are a favorite of mine, but so are the strong, quiet types like Eleanor. She’s smart and observant and has used her time in corners to great advantage. The early scenes between her and Jack are charming and wonderfully done. With a few lines of dialogue, Eleanor manages to surprise both the reader and Jack. He is flummoxed and attracted, and not sure what to do about either feeling. Those are captivating and revealing scenes, and they make it clear that Eleanor and Jack are equals and partners in this endeavor – just the way I like it.
Though Jack’s plan is to enter society, there is truly very little socializing occurring, and that gives this the feel of a cabin romance. That’s all to the good. No overdone visits to Almacks. No makeovers of Eleanor. (Okay, Jack does buy shoes for Eleanor in a wonderfully tender moment but it’s not for the reasons you might guess.) And wonder of wonders, no sex in the gardens of Vauxhall. Does it get any better? Because of the confined nature of their relationship, Jack and Eleanor really get to know each other and can honestly fall in love.
If there’s a weak element here, it’s the external plot. I accepted that Eleanor’s family was unconventional in their dealings and were an honorable bunch of smugglers, but Jack’s plan to capture the Red Men didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and once he and Eleanor get to London very little time was devoted to the plan. Whereas everything else Ms. Michaels did in terms of writing this as part of a series was done well – including the appearance of characters who star in past and future books – the suspense plot felt like it was there solely to keep the peril to the family ongoing.
Ms. Michaels has been writing romances of various kinds for years and though many of her romances would be considered light, she manages to skillfully mix in some pretty serious issues. That is skill and I thank her for it. I encourage you to give this oen a try; I think you’ll like it too.