Gilding the Lady
Clarissa Fallon is a young woman with a traumatic past; she suffered years of misery before her older brother, Matthew, tracked her down. Now Clarissa lives in the comfortable home of her brother and his new wife, Gemma, and is about to make her debut in society. However, she is having a hard time learning the manners and skills befitting a lady, and she’s afraid of disgracing her family.
Dominic Shay, earl of Whitby, is a scarred but still handsome war hero, and a leading society arbiter. After he makes an unflattering remark about his friend Galston’s cousin – a recent debutante – Galston argues that Dominic is better at tearing people down than building them up. When the two men spot a pretty, young woman running by their men’s club – young ladies know it’s a big social faux pas to trespass in this male territory – Galston wagers that his friend can’t make a lady out of the obviously gauche woman. Dominic, feeling guilty for his treatment of Galston’s cousin, agrees reluctantly.
Clarissa and Dominic meet and spar instantly. Clarissa unleashes her blunt and impulsive tongue, which she tries very hard to control, but fails most of the time. What’s fun and surprising is that Dominic gives it right back to her, with more polish, but equal bluntness. It is this shared trait that allows the mutual admiration and acceptance to gradually grow between them, and when an event happens that threatens Clarissa’s life, Dominic is wonderful in accepting her past and helping her with her crisis.
Dominic appears to be a Beau Brummel figure, and he is, sometimes. There is an amusing scene where he has to forgo his luxurious coach and his expensive coat to wear a badly fitting, cheap footman’s livery, and even scuff his boots! Oh, the horror! Nevertheless, Dominic is more than an arrogant clotheshorse. He’s kind, chivalrous, and loyal. He appreciates Clarissa’s intelligence and courage. He’s even man enough to listen to and follow her advice.
Clarissa is a very sympathetic character due to her past, and I appreciated her struggling to learn ladylike manners and ways rather than achieving them effortlessly. She’s endearing with her blunt tongue and penchant for swearing. However, her constant doubts about succeeding do get a little wearisome; her brother and sister-in-law have the patience of saints in their dealings with her. Considering all the hardships she endured and the feisty spirit that she showed in defending herself against those who had abused her, it’s hard to understand her lack of confidence.
My other complaints are a consummation scene that seems a tad melodramatic and not quite in sync with the leads’ previous sensible actions, and a too conveniently timed last minute solution to a dilemma. Nevertheless, these are minor complaints to a tender and sweet romance with sympathetic and likable leads. Previous characters in the series provide a nice secondary cast; some of them are just spot mentioned while others play bigger roles that, thankfully, never divert from the lead couple. Author Nicole Byrd has an uncluttered and elegant writing style, and I wouldn’t mind checking out her backlist.