Mary Balogh is the author of some of my very favorite novels. She is easily my favorite historical romance author. Most of her books, for me, invite an immediate re-read since they are far too good to experience just once. This novel, while good, did not cause any of that urgency in me but I did thoroughly enjoy it and am glad to add it to my Balogh keeper shelf.
Samantha McKay spent seven years in a less than ideal marriage. The first years were marred by her husband’s infidelity; the last five years were marked by his lingering injuries from the Napoleonic war. Injuries which had seen Samantha move from wife to caregiver. Her patient had been particularly demanding and peevish leaving Samantha exhausted and disheartened. His death brings rest but no comfort, for his sister has arrived as the family representative. Puritanical and dour, the lady has turned Samantha into a prisoner in her own home. At least her father-in-law did not come. His repressive nature would have been far too much for Samantha to handle in her current state.
After five months of resting and mourning, though, Samantha is once more ready to tackle life. Her sister-in-law denies her even the most modest of social occasions, but determined to carve out some joyous activity Samantha goes out on a walk with her dog Tramp without her estimable in-laws in tow. Unfortunately, the walk results in bodily injury when a rider jumping the hedgerow which she is playing near causes her to land unceremoniously on her rump. Proving that some gentlemen are unworthy of the title he proceeds to blame her and Tramp for the resultant chaos and rides off without even dismounting to help her up!
Sir Benedict Harper is thoroughly ashamed of himself by the time he reaches his sister’s estate. He should never have blamed the lady for what was clearly his fault and he should have at least explained that injuries from the war and not a lack of manners were what prevented him from offering her any assistance. His guilt has him doing something unprecedented; badgering his sister into a social call so that he can then apologize. The two make the call and he finds Mrs. McKay to be a beautiful and charming young woman. Happy to have his bad behavior off his conscience, especially since the recipient of the behavior had been such a lovely lady, he heads home figuring that’s an end to it. However, Mrs. McKay seems determined to pursue the acquaintance. Several visits back and forth have them moving towards a casual friendship and mild (and by both their estimations safe) flirtation. Then disaster strikes and Samantha’s in-laws determine to have her moved to the family estate, where the tyrannical father-in-law can keep her more closely guarded. Resolved to escape their clutches (hence the book title) Samantha races to Benedict to talk out her options. Conveniently remembering an inheritance she had forgotten about till that moment, she solves her own problem by deciding to head to Wales and claim the cabin left to her. Initially she asks Benedict to accompany her, but realizes that is presumptuous (not to add scandalous) and reneges. The die has been cast however and Benedict does indeed determine that it is marginally less scandalous and dangerous for the two to travel together than for her to travel there alone.
This is a Balogh so the author’s writing style is very nearly flawless, as is her sense of time and space. It is inevitable that when you pick up one of her novels you feel transported back to Regency England and are surrounded by the smooth speech and elegant manners of a gentler era. Her characters have an exquisite blend of cool, correct exterior mingled with reserved warmth that I have always imagined the best of the gentility of this period would have. Benedict especially showcases this since he embodies the old fashioned definition of gentleman with his innate moral code, elegant demeanor and gracious chivalry.
The pacing of the story is slow and sweet. Samantha and Benedict are both very vulnerable from their experiences during and after the wars. She had spent much of her marriage in one form of difficulty or other; he had spent much of the past several years convalescing from horrific injuries and doing what we would now refer to as physical therapy. Benedict feels sexually inadequate because his legs were shattered and had to be virtually rebuilt, leaving serious scars. Samantha feels lacking because her husband had cheated on her soon after their marriage and she is unconsciously convinced it was an indication that he somehow found her wanting. Both crave an intimate relationship almost from the start but the progress towards it is slow and halting with many stops and starts along the way. That suits our story and characters perfectly.
What did not suit as well is Samantha’s complete naiveté regarding any sort of survival skills. Her forgotten house and rather inadequate plans as to how to get there made little sense to me. Yes, women of the time were sheltered but a housewife whose husband had required such care giving would have had some idea of household management. Samantha never gave me any sign that she had any. And while I adore – and expect – an HEA in a romance the author ironed out all challenges in such an unrealistic manner that the ending really did feel like a fairy tale promising that all problems were behind them.
Those quibbles don’t negate the fact that this is a very good Regency romance with a lot to offer. It’s not one of this author’s best but compared to much of what is on the market it is a satisfying, pleasurable read.