Once a Cavalier
For somebody who doesn’t normally pick up time-travel romances on her own, I’ve sure read my share of them since joining AAR. Like any other group of books, it’s been a mixed bag, but I have to say that I had very few problems with Linda O. Johnston’s latest, set in London just before the Great Fire of 1666.
Medical researcher Larryn Maeller, in London for a conference, is staying at the small estate of her friend Chloe Seldrake. She’s immediately drawn to the portrait of one of Chloe’s ancestors, Thomas Northby, first (and only) Duke of Seldrake. That night, Seldrake’s ghost appears to her and seems to be pleading for her help. To add to her sense of unease, Chloe shows Larryn a miniature portrait – of Larryn, with her name written on the back – that’s three centuries old. Despite her misgivings, she’s drawn back to the roof where she saw the ghost, and when one of Chloe’s dogs runs into a mysterious fog, Larryn follows, and finds herself in Restoration England, on Seldrake’s property.
Thomas Northby has been breaking the law by rescuing children from an outbreak of plague. Watching his beloved wife die of the disease was almost more than he could bear, and he’s vowed to save as many others as he can. He has no idea where such a strangely dressed woman has come from, and her refuses to accept her claim to be a doctor. She could be a spy sent by his enemies to betray him. Nevertheless, he’s intrigued by her insistence that everything be scrubbed down, and as the days pass, Thomas comes to see that Larryn does indeed know what she’s talking about.
He also comes to see that she’s as attracted to him as he is to her. Larryn, however, has a very good reason for not succumbing to passion, and she struggles against the temptation to fall into Thomas’s arms. Besides, she’s convinced somebody is trying to harm her, and she’s got to find out who, and why. And always in the back of her mind is the thought that she’s traveled to this time to help Thomas with something – but what?
Okay, it’s a time travel, so you know it couldn’t really happen, but the story follows the rules that the author establishes, helping the time-travel element work. The plot is solid, moving along at a nice pace. There’s a welcome touch of humor, too, most of it centering on Larryn’s fish-out-of-water experiences. And Ms. Johnston gives a distinct voice to each of her main characters, even though I ran across one too many “mayhaps” in Thomas’s thoughts.
Larryn and Thomas are well-drawn, sympathetic characters, with strong, readily understood reasons for acting as they do. They’ve both known tragedies in their pasts, and it takes a while for them to open up to each other. The only thing that bothered me as a reader was the lack of anger on Larryn’s part when she discovered why her friend Chloe had been so generous to her over the years, going so far as to pay Larryn’s medical school expenses. Come to think of it, had she never wondered in the first place why Chloe had done so?
Most of the secondary characters do their jobs well; the romance between Thomas’s sister and one of his friends is sweet, and the duke’s opposition to it gives Larryn a chance to do some matchmaking. Ms. Johnston pulls a nice, unpredictable twist with one of the secondaries, but I can’t even say whom it involves, much less what it is, without spoiling it for you. Just keep your eye out for it.
One of my complaints with time-travel romances is that, with very few exceptions, true love always wins out over tetracycline and telephones. The part of me that appreciates electricity and modern science was very satisfied with the ending of Once a Cavalier. Is it a spoiler to say that? I don’t think so: after all, this is a romance, so we know there’s a HEA. I enjoyed getting to this one, and I think you will too.