Not Quite a Lady
Loretta Chase finishes up her Carsington Brothers series with the youngest brother, Darius. Although Darius is not my favorite brother in the series, Not Quite a Lady has a really terrific heroine in Lady Charlotte Hayward.
At sixteen, Charlotte was seduced by a rake who was subsequently killed in a duel. She gave birth in secret to a son who was then placed with a good family. Charlotte’s stepmother helped her but her father was kept in the dark. She has sworn off love for the past ten years and learned to subjugate her emotions, determined to be the perfect daughter and never give her family any more cause to worry. She is heartily ashamed of her past; she believes herself to be damaged goods and so can never marry, for she can’t imagine ever trusting any man enough to tell him of her past.
Charlotte has managed, through hard work and rigorous politeness, to not marry, but her well-meaning father is determined to see her happily settled. He has invited likely candidates to a house party but in his eyes, the best prospect for his beloved daughter is Darius Carsington, their new neighbor.
Darius is incredibly intelligent and well known for his many papers on agricultural matters – he specializes in animal mating behavior. It is his human mating behavior, however, that bothers his father, the Earl of Hargate. Darius’s driving force is Logic, and he comes across as emotionless, heartless and cold-blooded in his dealings with women. His partners are always worldly, experienced women whom he engages and then dismisses with neither his heart or emotions ever being engaged. He does not debauch the innocent, but he has not had much contact with them either, as he shuns polite society.
The earl is fed up with his youngest son’s heartless ways and lack of income. He challenges Darius to take a derelict property and turn a profit within one year by putting his endless theories into practice. If he fails, he is to marry an heiress in order to support his expensive ways. It is a challenge – and a motivation – that Darius cannot refuse.
So we have two people well-versed in not showing their emotions and avoiding any kind of romantic attachment. It isn’t long before both are behaving in ways that are unusual for them and rethinking their positions.
Charlotte isn’t so much unemotional as she is controlled. Her emotions are, at times, barely below the surface. She has great grief, guilt, and longing, and the effort to keep it all bottled up, to be the perfect daughter, occasionally requires an outlet. When this happens, she walks and walks, and cries or laughs or screams, depending on the situation. It is on one of these walks that she runs into Darius, lying on the ground studying dragonflies. It is a great and funny first meeting and Darius’s “breeding organs” are quickly engaged, but Logic intervenes when he learns she is his neighbor’s daughter – a lady – and therefore off-limits.
Charlotte is an immediately sympathetic character who finds that her usual methods of avoidance don’t work on Darius. For his part, Darius can’t logically work out why a beautiful heiress is still unmarried at 27. She is a puzzle and he can’t resist a puzzle. Before long, Logic begins to give way to those pesky Feelings and he can’t stay away from her, though he knows he should.
While I ultimately came to like Darius quite a lot, it did take me a little while to warm up to him and to get into the story itself. It was a bit slow going for 75 pages or so though there are a few gems interspersed in there, including a scene where Charlotte deviously arranges Darius’s library in a way sure to drive him nuts: alphabetically, so there are a lot of books that start with “A” (for “a”) and “T” (for “the”) and “F” (for “foreign”). There are also some wild coincidences later in the book that propelled the action but left me thinking “oh yeah, what are the odds of that happening?”
But all in all, I found this to be a fun book. I enjoyed watching Darius fall victim to Feelings while not entirely abandoning Logic, and Charlotte learning to trust a man and express her emotions without fear of disappointing. Loretta Chase never disappoints me, and I can easily recommend the fun and sometimes touching Not Quite a Lady.