Tempting Mr Townsend
Tempting Mr Townsend is the second novella in Anna Campbell’s series of stories about three Dashing Widows, friends who decide to shake things up a bit and live a little following their mourning periods. The heroine of this story is Lady Fenella Deerham, whose husband, Henry, was killed at Waterloo over five years earlier, and who has elected to devote her life to her young son, Brandon, not prepared to believe she could ever fall in love again.
It was only at the behest of her two friends, Lady Caroline and Lady Helena, that she put off her mourning little over a year previously, and since then, her beauty has gained her quite a following. She is not interested in any of the men who pay court to her though, and prefers to live quietly, cherishing her memories of Henry and bringing up their son.
Her peace is shattered quite suddenly one evening when a mountain of a man bursts into her home demanding she return his ward to him. Fenella firmly tells the intruder she has no idea what or who he is talking about, but when he reveals that his nephew and her son have run away from school, she is filled with dread and instantly demands that she accompany him in his search for the boys. Mr Anthony Townsend, a wealthy and successful businessman, is extremely reluctant to take Fenella with him, but quickly realises that she will not take no for an answer and agrees to allow her to go with him. As they are about to set out, however, a letter arrives from Brandon, explaining that they have gone to visit Carey Townsend’s sick, elderly nurse in the country.
Relieved to know where the boys are headed, Fenella and Townsend are still concerned for their safety, and immediately set out, late as it is, to follow the boys to his estate outside Winchester. During the journey and their subsequent stay at the Beeches, Fenella is disturbed to recognise that she is strongly attracted to Anthony, the first time she has felt such a thing since her husband’s death. For his part, Anthony is utterly bowled over by Fenella; by her beauty, her grace and her spirit, and he knows without a doubt that she is the woman for him. But she’s a lady and he’s the son of a Yorkshire merchant and … a woman like her couldn’t possibly be interested in a man like him. Could she?
This is a sweetly sensual story about a woman rediscovering herself as an emotional and sexual being when she had thought that phase of her life extinguished along with her husband years before. I appreciated that Ms Campbell wrote Fenella’s marriage as a very happy, uncomplicated one, spent with a man she loved and who loved her in return, and the way she explores Fenella’s guilt when she realises she is falling for someone else is nicely done. The problem, as is often the case with novellas, is that there is just not enough space in which to develop the characters or their situation fully.
The set-up – Anthony rushing into Fenella’s home and them almost immediately haring off into the night – happens at breakneck speed, although it actually works in context and also means that there is more time available to spend on the romance. Anna Campbell is an excellent writer, and all the constituent parts of the novella work; the road-trip element enables the couple to talk and get to know each other a little, the two boys are well-drawn and Anthony, although painted with broad strokes, is an endearing, likeable hero that I’d have liked to spend more time with.
Tempting Mr Townsend is a charming story from the pen of a highly accomplished author, but for all that, I can’t deny it’s somewhat insubstantial. If, however, you’re looking for a novella to while away an hour or two, you could certainly do worse than pick it up.