Desert Isle Keeper
Passing Fancies is one of my all-time favorite romances. Elizabeth Mansfield has written more than thirty Regency Romances over the years, but in my opinion, this one is her very best. It’s one of the few books I have that I would run into my burning house to save. But luckily for me, it has been reissued so I don’t have to risk life and limb for it.
Lady Phillipa Wyckfield is a young woman with a serious problem. She has too much money and too soft a heart. The story begins with Pippa returning to visit her old friends, the Sturtevants, with whom she has lived off and on for many years. When Pippa was very young, her father died and her mother married a sea captain; the Sturtevants invited her to stay with them while her parents were at sea. Over the years she became very much a part of the Sturtevant family. In fact, several years ago there was some speculation that Pippa and the oldest Sturtevant son, William, would make a match of it. But that came to naught.
The Sturtevants are rather a chaotic family. William is the responsible one, bent on controlling his uncontrollable siblings. Sibyl is an instigator of havoc. Over the years she has embroiled Pippa in more scrapes than she can count. Right now, Sybil is becoming known in London as a jilt, as she’s thrown over three fiancés and is still looking for the perfect match. Adolphus (Dolly) is young, high-spirited and horse-mad. And then there’s Simon.
Simon is the invisible member of the family. Brilliant, quiet, and unobtrusive, he spends his days on the top floor of the Sturtevant house doing scientific experiments to understand the nature of light. He hovers just at the edge of his family, happy to be out of the way and concentrate on forming a career in science for himself. No one notices him much because he demands so little attention. No one except Pippa. They are friends. She used to help him with his experiments and calculations, glad herself to be out of the family chaos for a while.
Now Pippa is back and once again is surrounded by Sturtevants with problems. Dolly wants a new horse, and William won’t give him the money. Sybil has gambled away the family sapphire and needs to get it back before anyone else notices. And William is starting to look at Pippa as more than just a friend. Somehow Pippa gets involved in everyone’s problems until everything is so complicated she can’t figure it out herself. Before she knows how it all happened, she is engaged to the new possessor of the Sturtevant sapphire and the proud owner of an unbroken stallion. William is suspicious and disapproving, and Pippa just wants to go upstairs to be with Simon, but he’s acting strange. He won’t talk to her like he used to, and that seems the most frightening thing of all. Because even though she doesn’t realize it, only Simon provides what she really wants: peace, quiet, interesting work and understanding.
This has to be one of the quietest love stories I’ve ever read, but somehow that makes it all the more affecting. Simon is so good. He needs to be needed but will never demand it since he knows his voice won’t be heard above the family clamor. Simon has been in love with Pippa for ages, and unlike the rest of the family, he loves the real Pippa since he sees her as she really is, not just someone who will donate money or go along on another scheme. But he, like everyone else, thinks Pippa is meant for William, and he knows he can’t compete. Or can he?
There’s something very poignant in this story. It’s shows that sometimes what you really need is right in front of you; you just have to notice. Simon’s quiet, understated devotion is worth more than pages and pages of declarations of love. He and Pippa belong together. They fit. How many times do you finish a book and think: “Yep, they’ll make it. They’re really, really right for each other.”? This is one of those times.
I can’t recommend this book enough. It is fast-paced, involving, and full of fun characters. And the end has me in happy tears every time. In fact, I think I’ll order myself another copy. The first one is getting ragged, and I want to be sure I always have one available.