Desert Isle Keeper
Again, My Lord
In the two books in the Twist series so far, Katharine Ashe has taken a couple of well-known movie plots as her starting points and adapted them into historical romances which, while certainly out of the ordinary in terms of the premise, are nonetheless well done and very entertaining, possessing a depth of understanding and exploration of character motivation that wasn’t possible in the films which inspired them.
In this second story, Again, My Lord, Tacitus Caesar Everard, Marquess of Dare has two requirements in a bride. First, she must have good teeth; second, she should be someone with whom he could live a contented, sensible life without becoming emotionally involved. When he meets the vivacious, eighteen-year-old Lady Calista Chance (sister of Ian, hero of My Lady, My Lord), Tacitus is delighted to note that she has excellent teeth and that she is so different from him in terms of personality – she’s lively and outgoing whereas he tends to be shy and somewhat subdued – that there’s little chance of his falling in love with her, and immediately decides she’s the girl for him.
He sets about courting her, putting up at a country inn close to the Chance estate where he remains for a month while he takes Calista on drives and outings, usually accompanied by her younger siblings. Calista chatters on and teases him in a way he’s never experienced before and isn’t sure how to respond to; he doesn’t exactly dislike it, but can’t shake the feeling that perhaps she is simply making fun of him. Still, he continues to spend time with her, coming to realise that she has a keen mind behind the bubbly exterior and pretty face – and after a month has passed, decides that it’s time for him to make a formal offer. He is about to make his way to her home when she arrives at the inn and promptly tells him she is running away and asks him to take her to London. Believing Calista is asking him to take her to meet another man, Tacitus only now realises he’s fallen in love – and curses himself for an idiot. He takes her back home and leaves her without another word, determined to fall out of love as quickly as he’d fallen into it. But it’s not easy – even when, a few weeks later, he sees the notice in the paper of her marriage to another man.
Six years later, Lady Calista Holland is trying not to fall apart as she bids farewell to her five-year-old son, Harry, who is going to stay with her mother and sister for a month. Calista’s husband, however, has not granted her permission to accompany him; he’s very possessive and resents any of her time or attention being given to anything other than him, so all she is allowed to do is deliver Harry to her sister at the inn near the small village of Swinly and then she must return home immediately. Everything is set – when a huge horse thunders into the yard and would have knocked Harry down were it not for the fast reflexes of its rider. Calista is astonished to recognise the autocratic, severe, yet handsome-as-ever features of none other than the Marquess of Dare, the man she fell in love with six years ago and the man who abandoned her when she needed him the most.
The horrible weather only gets worse, aptly reflecting Calista’s gloomy mood, and when she wakes the next morning to discover that the storm is so bad as to have flooded the roads and made it impossible to leave the village her feelings are conflicted. On the one hand, she has a respite from her miserable, abusive husband; on the other, if she cannot get home on time, she has no doubt Richard will take out his anger on her and, later, their son.
I don’t want to spoil the twist in the story, although it will quickly become apparent once things get going, so I’m not going to say more about the plot. Instead, I’ll say that Again, My Lord is a wonderful tale of love and redemption that encompasses a gamut of emotions from dejection to elation, from despair to hope. The majority of the story is told in Calista’s PoV, so we are privy to her transformation from a woman who has been beaten down by life and who has little regard or care for anyone or anything – except her son, whom she loves dearly – to someone who knows how to live life to the fullest and make the most of each day and opportunity that comes along.
Through her eyes, we see that Tacitus has changed in the intervening years, too, and very much for the better. The oh-so-correct, somewhat gauche young man Calista first knew has become a man whose natural authority commands attention without his having to say a word; even better, he seems to have acquired a dry sense of humour and the ability to laugh at himself somewhere along the way. He’s the most gorgeous romantic hero; thoughtful, sweet, passionate and kind and I loved the way the he’s so patient and considerate with Calista, even when he has no idea what she’s doing or talking about or when he’s irritated with her.
The romance that re-kindles between the two is extremely well developed – even moreso given the restrictions imposed upon the author by the twist – as Calista and Tacitus gradually rediscover each other and fall in love all over again. In fact, it’s probably true to say they never really fell out of love with each other, but they have to get to know the people they are now, and it’s quite the journey for them both, albeit in different ways. It’s far from easy, however, and there’s a lot of heartache along the way for Calista especially, as she starts to realise that the time she has been granted to spend with Tacitus is a double-edged sword, because for her, every day brings new discoveries and new facets of him to fall in love with, whereas for him… well, suffice to say it’s not the same for Tacitus which is one of the things that adds such a note of poignancy to the story.
Katharine Ashe pulls off this unusual conceit with immense quantities of style and panache. Her writing is lyrical and completely engaging, the characterisation of the two leads is excellent and she’s one of those authors with a real talent for writing dialogue that feels natural and in which the humour is never forced. Again, My Lord has pretty much everything I could ask for in an historical romance, and is another of Ms. Ashe’s books to find its way onto my keeper shelf.