His Heart’s Delight
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”
His Heart’s Delight involves a game of Pull-The-Wool-Over-Their-Eyes, as a couple with a mutual need to deceive team up to fool the people around them. Of course, they only end up fooling themselves. Uneven in spots with some occasionally distracting background material, this book makes for an overall enjoyable reading experience.
Lord Morgan Braedon’s sickly and manipulative father (haven’t we seen enough of these?) commands Morgan to find a bride by the end of the year, or he’ll cut him off without a penny. Morgan knows even his formidable skills at the card table may not be enough to pay for the improvements to the small estate he inherited from his mother, but he has no desire to marry. After the early and tragic deaths of his mother and sister, he vowed never to leave himself open to the pain that comes with caring for someone. When his grandmother introduces him to Miss Christiana Lambert, he’s attracted in spite of his determination to remain unattached; perhaps she’ll be open to a little meaningless flirtation while Morgan figures out what to do.
But Christiana is in need of a fake suitor of her own. Her father has forbidden her to become engaged to her neighbor Richard before the end of the Season, especially since Richard has bought a set of colors and is off to the Peninsula. Papa Lambert wants his daughter to see something of Society before she settles down, and Christiana begins to cast about for someone to be her partner in a ruse designed to take the pressure off her and allow her to enjoy her Season. When he discovers Christiana’s predicament, an idea forms in Morgan’s head: they can just pretend to court each other. At the end of the Season, Christiana can tell her parents it didn’t work out with Morgan, and can she please announce her engagement to Richard? As for Morgan, he can say to his father, “Hey, I tried. She turned me down. Is that my fault?” Christy agrees to his scheme, and they embark on their deception. But events don’t work out as smoothly as either of them has planned.
Christiana was a somewhat problematic character for me. She blows hot and cold in the same scene, often with no warning. She tells her sister a whopper of a lie, for what struck me as a flimsy reason, and she seems to be clueless when it comes to the real reason behind Richard’s interest in her. Yet for the most part she demonstrates solid common sense and is on the whole likable. If you’re tired of the “Oh, I hate town life and can’t wait to get back to the country” heroine, then Christy is the girl for you. She makes no bones about her enjoyment of her Season; this was a refreshing change for me.
I liked Morgan a lot. He has solid reasons for his ruse; while they’re not totally selfless, they are motivated by his sense of responsibility and a legitimate desire for independence from his manipulative father. He’s got a good sense of humor, and is a charming, unrepentant flirt. And he’s aware that something is building between himself and Christiana, even if he denies to himself that it’s called love.
There’s a somewhat confusing and distracting secondary romance between Christiana’s staid older sister Joanna and a fellow whose previous dealings with Morgan’s older brother James have been less than cordial. I say “confusing” because at one point it appeared that James might be interested in Joanna, and when that didn’t pan out I felt as if I’d been purposely led down a blind alley, for no good reason. As for James, he seemed to me just a bit too derivative of Jo Beverley’s Bey Malloren, Marquis of Rothgar: first-born son whose mother went mad and died, so he’s decided he can never marry and risk passing the madness on to another generation. The involuntary comparison pulled me out of the story more than once.
We also meet the youngest Braedon, Rhys, an engaging character who may need a few years (at least in fiction-time) before he’s ready for his own romantic adventures. Indeed, the author indicates in a note at the end that His Heart’s Delight is the first in a series about the Braedon family; while I would be inclined to read more stories featuring this family, I thought there was just a shade too much laying of groundwork for the series in this book. Just a shade, though: for the most part Morgan and Christiana stand front and center here. If you’re looking for a traditional Regency Romance with a bit of a twist, pick this one up, if for no other reason than to meet a young lady who likes parties, and a hero who really knows how to flirt.