I first encountered Andrea Pickens when I reviewed The Hired Hero. I enjoyed that book so much, I went out and found another one of hers, Code of Honor. I thoroughly enjoyed that one too, so when I found Second Chances in my reviewing stack, I looked forward to reading it and was not disappointed at all. Andrea Pickens has hit a trifecta with this one.
Max Sloane is 16 years old and a gifted student. He has taken it on himself to engage a tutor, much to the surprise of his father Leo, the Earl of Wrexham. Wrexham is even more surprised when the applicant of Max’s choice turns out to be Mrs. Allegra Proctor, the widow of a curate. Wrexham had in mind a tutor, not a governess, but Allegra proves to be a gifted and intelligent woman and Max is soon wild about her. And so is Wrexham, although he will not admit it.
Allegra has come to the Wrexham estate for reasons of her own. The neighboring estate is owned by Lord Sandhill, a man whom Wrexham dislikes. Sandhill has a bully of a son who months before had attempted to rape Allegra. When her brother (who was only 16) tried to come to her aid, Sandhill’s son beat him so badly he died. Then Sandhill robbed Allegra’s father of a valuable manuscript. Allegra wants revenge. Eventually, Allegra, Wrexham, and Max hatch a plot to force Sandhill (who has been stealing from members of the ton as well) to show his true colors.
Second Chances has one of the best depictions of the father-son relationship as I have seen in a long time. Max is a dear. He would today be called a gifted child, but is no regency nerd. He is smart and strong and loves his father and his father loves him. That does not mean that they don’t have their disagreements – Max is a teenager after all and they have several conversations along the lines of “you never let me do anything, I hate you.” (Sound familiar)?
Allegra is a wonderful character and I liked her at first sight. She is smart and competent and she and Wrexham are a perfect match. But before they get together, she has to get over her prejudice against members of the nobility and Wrexham has to realize that Allegra is vastly different from his frivolous and vain first wife. She and Wrexham match wits and sometimes are at cross purposes, but they learn about each other from their clashes and grow from mistrust to respect to love.
Second Chances very neatly balances plot and character. The characters drive the plot and the plot illuminates the characters. Secondary characters are also very interesting especially Wrexham’s sister Lady Alston and his good friend Lord Bingham. Bingham especially is intriguing, since he is introduced as a man of intelligence and charm who has a title, but empty pockets and must marry for money. I would love to see a story where he finds a rich woman with Allegra’s intelligence and personality.
I know it is early, but Second Chances is already on my list for the best Regency Romance of the year. While Andrea Pickens’ handling of characters reminds me of Mary Balogh, her voice and style are uniquely her own. If you like Regency Romances with unusual characters – not just the belles and beaux at play – try Andrea Pickens, you will find her refreshingly different.