Desert Isle Keeper
Lord Stanhope's Proposal
Who says we at AAR don’t “get” Regencies? When one is done as well as Lord Stanhope’s Proposal, with delightful characters and a wonderfully written plot, what’s not to get? If you’re looking for a very pleasant way to pass a few hours, I highly recommend this book to you.
Tristan, Earl of Stanhope, is called in to clean up the mess his scatterbrained cousin Ossie has made. Having disgraced himself at one of Lady Jersey’s parties, Ossie’s been sent to rusticate in the village of Deepdene. But in an attempt to salve his pride, Ossie has made it look like he’s going down there to settle a wager concerning Miss Calista Ashton, the vicar’s spinster sister. To add insult to injury, Ossie has convinced the local squire’s son Elmo to buy a nag that Elmo’s personal hero Stanhope passed up – for good reason. When he hears of Ossie’s folly, Tristan is ready to throttle his cousin, and he sets out immediately for Deepdene, to salvage an innocent lady’s name and to undo the damage to Elmo’s purse.
Calista pays little attention to the gossip surrounding the arrival of England’s most eligible bachelor; she’s too busy seeing to the parish work that her lazy brother and sister-in-law can’t be bothered with. Her only goal is to reach her upcoming twenty-fifth birthday, so she can buy a little cottage and thwart her brother’s plan to marry her off to their boorish neighbor, a widower who wants to marry so he can save money on governesses and maids for his many children. Calista is never going to get married; moreover, she deplores the excesses of the wealthy nobility, especially someone like Stanhope, the epitome of everything she despises.
Their initial meeting is delightful, centered as it is on a misunderstanding of the reason behind Stanhope’s visit. Tristan has sent word that he’s coming to buy that horse, a filly, but Elmo’s scheming mama insists that it’s really to offer for her pea-brained daughter Sofie, and that Stanhope’s merely used obscure language to hide the fact. When Calista encounters the earl just before he comes into the village, she mischievously fails to warn him what’s in store for him at Lyttworth Hall. Needless to say, Tristan’s rather put out as the truth slowly dawns on him, but he’s intrigued by the wit and humor of the “colorless, drab” woman whose reputation he’s come to save. His next few meetings with Calista find him attracted beyond his imagination to her, in spite of everything she does to dissuade his attentions. Could it be that he’s found the solution for his aversion to the wedded state?
Tristan and Calista are as engaging a hero and heroine I’ve run across in a long time. They’re a perfect match, each of them working hard to evade the traps set for them by various characters of lesser intelligence. Tristan falls hard and fast for Calista, but she turns down his many proposals, all of them made in completely inappropriate situations. Every time she comes close to believing his declarations of love, something happens to convince her he’s not being sincere, and he has a lot of backpedaling to do to get her to trust him. The dialogue between them is a delight to read, funny and sparkling, and the sexual tension, while keeping within the bounds of a traditional Regency Romance, is high indeed.
All of the other characters are just as well done, from Ossie and his silly friends, to featherbrained Sofie and her grasping mother, to Calista’s would-be suitor and Tristan’s latest mistress Amanda, a failed poetess who refuses to accept that the liaison is over. There’s a wonderful scene where Sofie and Amanda surprise each other in Tristan’s bedroom – Sofie, there at her mother’s bidding in an effort to place the earl in a compromising situation, and Amanda, just hoping to lure Tristan into her arms. He’s got his work cut out, trying to extricate himself from that mess. In this motley cast, though, Tristan finds an ally in Calista’s friend Lady Enright, and she has the greatest line in the whole book. Dismissing Lady Lyttworth’s clumsy attempts to snare the earl for her daughter, Lady Enright murmurs, “Honestly! That is for amateurs like Gladys. When I meddle, girl, I really meddle!” And meddle she does, to great effect.
If I have a complaint about the book, it’s that it was too short, by at least one chapter. Tristan and Calista get caught in a rainstorm and have to break into an empty house to escape the weather. There’s nothing to eat in the place, of course, but Tristan finds a bottle of brandy. To distract himself from the temptation of the situation he informs Calista that what she needs to do is learn to swear and play cards, and sets out to teach her. Then the action cuts to the next morning, when Calista wakes up with her first hangover. I would love to have seen that card game!
Many Regency fans are mourning the shrinking of the sub-genre. If you need a healthy dose of lighthearted action, if you’re tired of reading the same old, set-in-London stories, if you’re ready for a level-headed and good-humored hero and heroine who manage to outwit everyone around them, I urge you to find Lord Stanhope’s Proposal. You’ll be cheering for Calista and Tristan as loudly as I did.