Desert Isle Keeper
You say you’re a reader who doesn’t enjoy sequels with the main characters from one book playing a significant role in another? Make an exception for Brighton Honeymoon, Sheri Cobb South’s delightful follow-up to last year’s The Weaver Takes a Wife. Ethan Brundy and his bride Lady ‘elen are back, and all they want is to be left alone!
When last we left them, the newlyweds were enjoying the first flush of marital bliss. Now Ethan’s decided it’s time for a proper honeymoon, so he rents a house in the seaside resort of Brighton, hoping that he and Helen can find some peace and quiet, and lots of time to themselves. Alas, his dream is shattered when a young lady pops up, claiming to be the illegitimate Ethan’s long-lost sister – a sister he never knew he had.
Polly Hampton needs an angel. She’s just been sacked by her lecherous boss and is about to be turned out of the house where she rents a room, unless she agrees to marry her landlady’s boor of a son. The only reason she’s come up to London is to try to find her father – a man of quality, her dear departed mother always claimed, even if he never bothered to marry the woman he impregnated. When she learns of the similarity between her own past and that of the obscenely wealthy Mr. Brundy, Polly shows up at his door, just as he and Helen are on the point of departure. Her use of Ethan’s mother’s last name, Crump, convinces Helen that there might be some truth to Polly’s story, and she invites her to accompany them to Brighton.
Ethan’s not fooled for a minute, but in the face of his kindhearted bride’s insistence, what can he do? He calls on a friend, Sir Aubrey Tabor, for help. If Aubrey will travel to Brighton, he can investigate the girl’s claim. The only problem is that if Aubrey’s in Brighton, his mother will insist on coming too, and all available accommodations in the resort have been taken. Instead of a quiet few weeks alone with his wife, Ethan ends up hosting a most unlikely house party, complete with a prickly old woman who insults him as a parvenu at every turn, a smooth, sophisticated bachelor, and a girl whose beauty is surpassed only by her duplicity. Moreover, it’s obvious to Ethan that Aubrey is falling hard and fast for the chit he’s supposed to be exposing as a fraud, prolonging affairs unnecessarily. What’s a newlywed to do?
This book is a veritable romp. On one hand you have Ethan and Helen, desperate for solitude – Helen refuses to indulge in her marital rights with guests in the house, frustrating Ethan to no end – and on the other you have a couple who fight their attraction to each other at every opportunity. Aubrey grows jealous when he sees Polly apparently encouraging an elderly suitor, when in reality all she’s doing is trying to discover whether the old gent might possibly be her father. The poor young man is driven to distraction: “Miss Crump” looks so familiar, but he can’t quite place where he knows her. Before he knows it, it doesn’t matter to Aubrey what game Polly’s playing, while she finds herself seeking out her would-be antagonist, instead of avoiding him at all costs.
Helen is so insistent that her protegee make a success of her arrival in Society that she enlists Aubrey’s help in teaching Polly to dance, which only ratchets up the frustration level for both young people. Meanwhile, Aubrey’s mother and Ethan cheerfully engage in some truly wicked verbal sparring. Lady Tabor is very surprised to learn the weaver has no compunction in giving as good as he gets, social standing notwithstanding. There were a couple of places I laughed out loud at some of their battles.
Polly is sweet, uncomfortably aware of her deception, but unable to come clean to Aubrey. She’s afraid that a confession would only seal his disapproval of her, and so she’s forced to continue her masquerade far longer than she’d dreamed. Aubrey has to face up to the unpleasant truth that he’s a snob, and he’s not sure he’s ready to rearrange his world. Watching these two dance around the truth with each other, and themselves, is a delight.
Sheri Cobb South is able to give readers a terrific mix of the best ingredients in a traditional Regency: interesting characters, witty dialogue, and a real feel for the period. The plot moves along at a comfortable pace, never slow but not going hell-for-leather, either. There are tantalizing clues to Polly’s parentage sprinkled throughout, but I never got the feeling I was being hit over the head with them. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, perhaps because I’d really liked the first one, and it was fun to revisit old friends and make some new ones. It might add to your enjoyment if you’ve read The Weaver Takes a Wife, but it’s not strictly necessary. Look for this one; if you love a real Heyeresque Regency, you won’t be disappointed.