The Governess's Secret Baby
One thing you can say about Harlequin Historicals – What You See is generally What You Get when it comes to titles, and The Governess’s Secret Baby is pretty much exactly what it says on the cover. This is the final book of The Governess Tales, a set of four books written by four different authors. Each of the stories features one of a group of friends who trained to become governesses at Madame DuBois’ School for Young Ladies in Salisbury. I was fairly underwhelmed by the first book, The Cinderella Governess, but enjoyed this final instalment much more, as the story is more solidly developed and the central characters more engaging and rounded. This book works perfectly well as a standalone, so anyone new to the series won’t be disadvantaged by reading out of order.
We learned in the first book that one of the ladies, Grace Bertram, was expecting. Grace managed to keep her pregnancy a secret for most of its duration, and after she’d given birth, gave up her baby for adoption, knowing there was no way she would be able to earn a living if it were known she had borne an illegitimate child. On the day she left the school, one of her teachers disclosed to Grace the name of the people who had adopted Clara, and Grace determined to track them down to make sure that her daughter was well and happy.
Unfortunately, by the time Grace was able to find out more, her daughter’s adoptive parents had died in a tragic accident, and Clara had been taken to Shiverstone Hall in Yorkshire to live with her ‘uncle’, Nathaniel Pembroke, the Marquess of Ravenwell, whose sister had been Clara’s mother for almost two years.
Grace makes her way to the village of Shivercombe, where the stories she hears of the reclusive young marquess are, frankly, disturbing, making her all the more determined to ensure that her daughter is being well-treated. She arrives at Shiverstone Hall dishevelled, muddy and windblown, and is mistaken by the sharp-toned master of the house for the governess he has advertised for. Sensing an opportunity to actually see Clara and interact with her rather than just hear about her, Grace says that she has indeed been sent there in response to the marquess’ request, and is reunited with her daughter.
The story progresses as expected, the mutual attraction between Nathaniel and Grace beginning to simmer as they also bond through their shared concern for Clara. Nathaniel is a good, kind man who was badly scarred in the fire that killed his father some nine years earlier and who has allowed his insecurities to dictate the course of his live ever since. Outright rejection by the woman he loved and then by the lady his mother had arranged for him to marry has led him to believe his scars must disgust anyone who sees them and he has resigned himself to a life lived in isolation. He keeps himself to himself, content with his dogs and the birds of prey he trains and flies around the estate. But Clara brings some much needed love and vitality into his life. He dotes on her and she clearly adores him; I’m not a great fan of children in romance novels, but the relationship between two-year-old Clara and he Uncle ‘Naffanal’ is charmingly done; and the way that Nathaniel realises that he needs to make changes in his life that may not be particularly comfortable for him, but which Clara needs, is admirable.
The fact that spending time with Clara means spending time with the new governess is both a delight and a torment. He tries to stay away from Grace in the hopes of crushing his burgeoning attraction to her, but he quickly realises that keeping away is not fair to Clara, who needs consistency and routine in her life.
Grace is attracted to Nathaniel despite his scars, recognising him for what he is – a decent, loving and loveable man who has been badly hurt on the inside as well as out. She wants to bring him out of his protective shell, and sometimes it seems as though she is going to succeed – but then something happens to make him withdraw from her again. Their romance is something of a two-steps-forward, one-step-back thing until quite late in the book, but fortunately, the misunderstanding that threatens their happiness isn’t overly drawn out, and both Nathaniel and Grace are allowed their just desserts – the family that both of them have longed for.
For all its predictability, The Governess’s Secret Baby is well-written, emotionally nuanced and strongly characterised. The love story is nicely-paced and the romantic tension between the couple builds gradually, making their romance believable and their eventual coming together feel well-deserved. Grace’s relief and delight at being with her daughter again are palpable and Nathaniel is an attractive ‘beastly’ hero who displays the sort of maturity and understanding often lacking in that type of character, who will often lock himself away in his pity party and see no need to attempt to make his life any better. While Nathaniel starts out by trying to live that sort of existence, he is sensible enough to know that his life has changed and he needs to change with it, and I really liked that about him.
As this is the last book in the series, there is a fairly long and overly sweet epilogue which reunites the four heroines and their respective spouses and offspring for the following Christmas. Call me Scrooge (go on, you know you want to!) but I don’t see that this adds anything to the book apart from the potential for a sugar-induced coma and I could happily have done without it.
But that apart, I enjoyed Grace’s story and would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick and charming read. It’s the first time I’ve read Janice Preston’s work, and I’ll certainly be seeking out more of her books on the strength of this one.