Lady Cecily and the Mysterious Mr. Gray
Lady Cecily and the Mysterious Mr. Gray is the third installment in Janice Preston’s Beauchamp Betrothals series. This is the first of them I’ve read, and while there are some references to events that seem to have taken place in previous books, they didn’t detract from my understanding of the current story.
Lady Cecily Beauchamp is used to putting the happiness of her entire family before her own. For the past several years, she’s been caring for the children of one of her elder brothers, and, for the most part, she’s happy with the state of things. Sure, she sometimes dreams of finding her one true love and living happily ever after, but there’s another part of her that doesn’t believe such a thing is really possible.
At the start of the story, Cecily is attending a family wedding. It’s been a few months since the Beauchamp clan was all together, so Cecily is pleased to be in the midst of them once again, but she can’t help but wonder what the future will hold for her now that both her brothers have married and started families of their own. She doesn’t relish the idea of being the spinster aunt, moving aimlessly between the homes of her various relatives, so she knows she needs to come up with a plan that will give her some sort of stability. Unfortunately, the only thing she can think to do is accept a rather unappealing marriage proposal from a much older man who is looking for a young wife to help raise his brood of children.
As she is leaving the church where the wedding took place, Cecily encounters Zachary Gray, an enigmatic stranger who seems out of place amidst the titled nobility surrounding the Beauchamps. The two exchange a few words, but Cecily is conscious of her reputation and doesn’t linger for long. However, for the rest of the night, she can’t keep from watching Zach and yearning to know more about him.
Over the course of the next few days, Zach and Cecily manage to spend some time together. Cecily knows her family wouldn’t approve, but she can’t seem to help herself – there’s something about Zach that she simply can’t resist. He seems to understand her the way no one else ever has, and she envies the carefree way he lives his life. He doesn’t appear to care what others think of him, something Cecily wishes she could figure out how to do.
For his part, Zach knows he should avoid Cecily, but he can’t bring himself to do so. He’s drawn to her vulnerability, and he longs to show her that she really is an intelligent woman who shouldn’t have to rely on others for her happiness. He knows what it’s like to feel unimportant, and he hates that Cecily seems to feel that way, but he’s not sure how he can empower her without incurring the wrath of her powerful family, a group of people who distrust him because of his family heritage.
I love that Ms. Preston has given Zach such a complicated past. I can’t go into it all without spoiling things, but he is the illegitimate son of a titled gentleman and a Romany woman. He spent his early years in his father’s home, but eventually decided to live with his mother’s people instead. There’s a lot more to Zach’s story, so I’ll let you learn about it for yourself – but trust me when I say that Zach is one of the deepest, most lovable heroes I’ve read about in quite some time. If I were grading this book on Zach’s character alone, it would be a DIK for sure.
Eventually, Cecily’s brothers discover that she has been spending time alone with Zach, and they forbid her from having any further contact with him. Even though she hasn’t known him for very long, Cecily misses his calm, compassionate presence in her life. For the first time, she feels totally misunderstood by those who claim to love her and want what is best for her, and, as time passes, she grows ever more torn between her growing feelings for Zach and her loyalty toward her family.
I had a lot of trouble warming to Cecily for about the first third of the story. She seems to spend a lot of time bemoaning her circumstances without taking steps to change them, and I was a little annoyed at how completely biddable she was. She’d have all these thoughts about standing up for herself, but it seemed really hard for her to actually do it; she went along with whatever her brothers said, even if she didn’t necessarily agree with it. I understand this was the role women traditionally played in the 1800s, but I still found her attitude frustrating. Fortunately, she grows quite a bit throughout the story, and I ended up liking her quite a bit by the time the novel was over.
Ms. Preston does a great job depicting the Romany lifestyle without basing the characters on stereotypes the way so many authors have done. Instead, Zach and his Romany family are fully fleshed out people. It’s obvious she did quite a bit of research into Romany culture, but I never felt like she was hitting me over the head with her knowledge. The facts were nicely integrated into the story, and I came away with a much better understanding of the Romany than I previously had.
While I liked the chemistry between Zach and Cecily, their romance wasn’t always as believable as I would have liked and felt a little too much like instalove for my personal taste. I wanted to really see them fall in love, rather than just have the author telling me it was happening. I never really felt the spark between them, even though I was being told it existed.
Lady Cecily and the Mysterious Mr. Gray isn’t the best historical romance I’ve read lately, but I still enjoyed some things about it. I also recognize that not all readers will have the problems I did with some parts of the story. In fact, I’m sure a lot of people will find the relationship between Zach and Cecily quite romantic. I’m not sure I’ll read more from the series, but I’m glad I gave this one a shot.