The Earl's Intended Wife
It’s been entirely too long since I started a book and felt compelled to finish it in one sitting, but, happily, that is just what I did with Louise Allen’s debut novel. Something about her prose flows so nicely that I just couldn’t bring myself to leave the story until I’d gotten to the very end. While there are a few rough spots, this is a very pleasing read on the whole.
Hebe Carlton is an orphan who lives with her beautiful stepmother in Malta. Tall and plain, she has resigned herself to a quiet life, content in her friendship with her stepmother and her friends in Malta’s British community. This changes for her one lovely day when her stepmother’s fiance comes to call, bringing with him a mysterious gentleman who turns Hebe’s routine world upside down.
That mysterious gentleman is Major Alex Beresford. Though he acknowledges Hebe is not a conventional beauty, he finds her enchanting and her intelligence and perception in reading people fascinate him. Hebe and Alex find themselves spending quite a lot of time together in the small society world of Malta. Though Hebe is initially reluctant to believe that Alex is interested in her, her stepmother encourages her to view him as a suitor. Sadly, just as it seems Hebe’s dreams will be realized, Alex receives a letter from a woman in England accepting a proposal made before he met Hebe.
While it sounds like a lot has been packed into that little plot summary, these events are only the beginning of this enjoyable tale. Allen’s debut is one of my favorite sorts of Harlequin Historicals. With small print and small margins, the author packs as much as she possibly can into this book and her ability to create such a full story within the length restrictions of this line is admirable. Hebe and Adam are both likable characters and their story really transported me into another time and place.
Though Allen refrains from presenting history lectures, she does a wonderful job of working historical detail naturally into her story. Alex is a soldier in more than just name and the reader gets to see glimpses of that life. Likewise, Hebe is a gently born lady subject to the strictures of her time and the reader can see how this has shaped her character as well. This use of detail makes Allen’s characters seem more vivid than many I encounter and, even after finishing the book, I still remember them well.
There is something very sweet about Alex and Hebe’s story. Seeing two people initially getting to know one another because of a simple desire to spend time together rather than because of a silly contrivance throwing them together is so refreshing. While there are a few rough plot points in the second half of the book – including a situation setting up a conflict between the leads which may be upsetting for some sensitive readers – Allen handles her story skillfully for the most part. Even with some of the rougher plotting and misunderstandings in the second half, the story is still a fun read. If you are looking for a sweet romance and an engaging story, this is just the sort of book to get lost in on a lazy afternoon.