At first, all of the lead characters in The Chance are so insecure that it’s like traveling back to Regency High. Happily, the book quickly improves from its shaky beginning to become an interesting character study. Though never very dramatic, The Chance gives insight into some unusual people.
Rafe Dalton is a type familiar in both romance and real life: the bluff, inarticulate, good-natured sweetheart who never gets the girl. He has recently fixated on Lady Annabelle, a great beauty who is still crushed by a year-old disappointment in love. To his surprise and pleasure, Annabelle encourages him. Although she does not find Rafe handsome, Annabelle is willing to salve her ego with Rafe’s obvious devotion.
Meanwhile, Rafe is hosting his ailing friend Eric and Eric’s sister Brenna. Distracted by her brother’s illness, Brenna opens Rafe’s door wearing a dressing gown, immediately compromising herself and jeopardizing Rafe’s courtship of Annabelle. Now Rafe is caught – he feels he ought to marry Brenna, but he’s still pining for Annabelle.
Between themselves, these three form an insecurity triangle. Brenna is drawn to Rafe, but his devotion to Annabelle makes him off-limits, and she can’t believe he would ever love her. Annabelle is a wonderful portrait of a woman whose tremendous advantages of beauty and intelligence are undermined by her shallow sense of self-worth; in our time she’d be the homecoming queen who suffers from bulimia. But in the low-esteem runoff, Rafe takes the prize. He’s more craggy than handsome and he’s burdened by Unfortunate Hair. No kidding: red hair like Rafe’s is considered unattractive and unlucky, and it’s the bane of his existence. At first Rafe’s fixation on this flaw seems absurd, but then so do all anxieties, except to the person who suffers from them. Gradually we are shown exactly why Rafe’s insecurities developed; the reasons are not pat, but as complex as they would be in real life.
Ultimately, Rafe blossoms into an excellent hero, a warrior with a beta soul. He’s darling as he staunchly defends Brenna’s name in one fight after another. He’s believably inarticulate, so when he actually expresses his feelings it’s ten times more poignant, especially in a meltingly sweet monologue at the end. I did wonder how he survived as a spy if he’s unable to lie, as we’re repeatedly assured. But no matter. His halting attempts at courtship more than make up for it.
Brenna is more sensual than many heroines, and more practical. The best scenes in the book are of she and Rafe getting to know each other, and I loved their conversations. When was the last time you heard a heroine break out of a clinch with a line like this:
“No, please, none of that, not now,” she said, shaking her head. “I know what that’s like. I don’t know you. Tell me more.”
It isn’t that Brenna isn’t sensuous, but that she isn’t exclusively ruled by her body. Pretty neat.
Even the villains are a cut above. They do bad things but we understand why they do them, sometimes even sympathize. They’re the sort I wouldn’t mind seeing in their own sequel – paired off with each other, even – because they’re bad but not irredeemable.
The biggest drawback for me was that the book was a little too even-tempered. Given its length, I might have liked a little more activity and could have done with at least one less bout of last-minute insecurity. Overall, however, this is a sweet read with well-founded characters, and I will watch for Ms. Layton’s work in the future. Especially if those villains get their own sequel.