Her Officer and Gentleman
Her Officer and Gentleman is the second book in Karen Hawkins’ duet about the aging Earl of Rochester who, after a lifetime of servitude to his title and position in society, reaches his deathbed without a legitimate heir. Having failed at his most important duty, the Earl makes a bold and unexpected move. He bribes a priest and a witness and fakes a marriage to an earlier mistress, thus legitimizing the twin sons born from that union. The ton suspects, of course, but can say nothing definitive. Thus Tristan and Christian are thrust into the world of society.
Unfortunately, the earl has had no contact with his new heirs since the time they were children. Much time has passed, and his sons have not had the benefit of what the Earl considers a proper upbringing. So, Rochester makes one last dying request to his butler – civilize his boys and make them worthy of their new positions.
Tristan’s story is recounted in Her Master and Commander, wherein he married a woman with a scandalous past, thereby discounting him from receiving his portion of his father’s money. Therefore, both men’s financial fate rests in the hand of the younger twin, Christian, Viscount Westerville, who must be civilized enough for both of them.
As Gentleman James, Christian stole both the jewels and the hearts of the women of the ton. With his faithful sidekick Willie, he terrorized the roads out of London. He craves the excitement and freedom of his mask and rapier, which eases his thirst for revenge and allows him to keep painful memories at bay for one more night. But his metamorphosis from highwayman to perfect gentleman suddenly allows him access to circles he never aspired to, to members of society who hold the key to his mother’s unfortunate demise. Living for vengeance, Christian plays the consummate viscount by night and throws himself into his search for information by day. His hunt leads again and again to the Duke of Massingale, an infirm old recluse who rarely leaves Massingale house and never accepts visitors. How to search his house? How to find definitive proof of his guilt? Why, seduce his on-the-shelf granddaughter, of course.
Elizabeth is 25 years old, much too old to be having her first season. But that is exactly what she’s doing, at her grandfather’s insistence. She is in Town to dance and flirt and enjoy all the luxuries of London for one year before returning to her beloved home and peace. She has no desire to be married, but her face and fortune draw the attention of bachelor after bachelor. Her ploys to discourage them work, for the most part, except on one – the notorious Viscount Westerville.
This is where Hawkins takes a left turn from normal Regency historicals. It seems Elizabeth has read some novels herself, and knows that rakish Viscounts don’t fall in love willy-nilly with sharp-tongued spinsters, no matter how brown their eyes or big their fortunes. He’s up to something. However, Westerville is charming and exciting and has the happy habit of keeping the other suitors at bay. So Elizabeth allows him increasing liberties. That is until she discovers he’s more interested in her beloved grandfather than herself.
Elizabeth is the antithesis of the TSTL heroine. She sees through Westerville’s plot, and plans a little of her own. She forces Westerville to acknowledge her as an equal from the beginning. Instead of paying lip service to how much admiration Christian holds for Elizabeth, Hawkins creates a heroine worthy of that esteem. When combined with their attraction, this mutual respect creates a wonderfully believable relationship. Even the predictably conventional, irritatingly over-the-top climax that forces reciprocated vows of love is forgivable in the face of such a fulfilling partnership.
And through the entirety of both novels is the old Earl of Rochester’s butler, Reeves (because all butlers have to shout out to Wodehouse), charged with refining the twins to acceptable standards. Reeves acts as a Greek chorus to the story, commenting on the action, offering advice (mostly unwanted) to Christian, and cementing the lessons to be learned. He is in turns humorous, poignant, and cheeky, but ever correct. His wisdom ranges from waistcoats to weddings, and he is never wrong. Though his deathbed promise is fulfilled, here’s hoping he makes a cameo in other Hawkins novels.
Final thoughts: It rained all weekend here, while I read Her Officer and Gentleman, and this book was a perfect companion. Hawkins takes on tired clichés and breathes new life into them, creating a warm, cozy read, perfect for a quiet afternoon.