The Admiral's Heart
The Admiral’s Heart is a short but surprisingly thought-provoking novella by now-back-on-the-scene author Danelle Harmon. I read it in a flash, questioned the premise – and then found myself thinking about it long into the next day.
On the surface, the story is short and simple. When Lady Philippa (Pippa) Hatfield was young, she was madly, crazy in love with dashing Captain Elliott Lord, and he with her. She ended the relationship without explanation and went on to marry another man, who has since died and left her a widow. Elliott went on to become a decorated admiral, celebrated for his heroism. They meet again ten years (and five months, and fourteen days…they’ve both been counting) later at a party given by the Duke of Blackheath to wish his brother Charles a bon voyage as he heads out for military service in America. If you are a Harmon fan from way back, you’ll certainly recognize the Duke of Blackheath and his siblings, who are cousins to Pippa (and perhaps some of Elliott’s relatives, who appear in other Harmon books as well). If you haven’t read any earlier books, you’ll still be able to figure out what’s happening.
After their subtly engineered meeting, Pippa and Elliott get right down to it – they have to, it’s a short novella – and sneak off together. They reconnect and make love in a very nicely written scene and Pippa finally confesses what drove her away.
And okay, I am going to go ahead and spill the beans on this one because it is what makes the novella interesting (if you really don’t want to know, don’t read any further and just let the B grade suffice).
Ready? Pippa is allergic to dogs. Watery eyes, runny nose and probably asthma allergic. Elliott has a dog, Albion, whom he loves dearly. Pippa decides that rather than making him choose between her and Albion, she’ll just break her own heart and cut off their relationship. Silly, I thought at first, but then I just kept thinking about it. I don’t have a beloved cat, as so many of my fellow AAR staffers do, but if I did that beloved cat could not live in the same house as my beloved husband or three out of four of my children. While I am sure I’d choose my husband over a cat, that’s a lot easier to do when the cat is hypothetical. Experimentally, I texted my twenty year old daughter, who loves – and I mean loves dogs. I asked her how hard it would be to choose between an allergic-to-dogs man she loved passionately and having a dog. At first she told me the relationship would never get off the ground: “How would he manage not to tell me when I talk about my dog 80% of the time?” Because he loves you so much he’s afraid to tell you, I say. After about two seconds contemplation, she told me that based on everything in her life right now, the dog wins. I guess I’d be afraid to tell her, too.
Then I thought some more. I wondered whether I’d ever seen this as a conflict in romance, and I couldn’t think of a time. But it has to be an issue for many people. Does anyone else remember when The Brady Bunch thought they’d have to give up Tiger because Jan was allergic, only to discover she was really just allergic to Tiger’s flea powder? What a relief, though it probably wasn’t really realistic. Then I started to think further, about what it must have been like to be allergic to animals in a much more rural society. Somehow I think my allergic to hay and horses younger son (a great allergy to discover in the middle of nowhere in Utah, by the way) wouldn’t fare so well.
As a romance, The Admiral’s Heart is short, and the characters are likeable – though without a whole lot of depth, since there just isn’t much room to give them any. The conflict is easily resolved. As a fan of Harmon’s earlier books, I’d recommend it for the nice love scene, but also, in the end, for the thought-provoking questions it prompts.