The Heiress of Hyde Park
The second in the Mayfair Brides series, The Heiress of Hyde Park makes me reconsider a recently-formed opinion that historical romances are becoming somewhat bland and uninspired. There are so many positive aspects to this sparkling, meaty novel that it is with reluctance that I acknowledge that the second half is somewhat less compelling than the first, owing to the amount of time focused on the two secondary relationships in the novel. Nevertheless, it’s a truly satisfying read and more than proves its author’s worth.
The story focuses on Lord Roman Aylesgarth and the daughter of his governess, Trista Nash, the only person to pierce his childhood loneliness. As children, Trista was one of the few people who did not bow to Roman’s bullying. Roman’s grudging respect for her is matched by her own breathless admiration of him as they grow into young adults and are swept into soul consuming passion that leaves Trista pregnant. Roman, who is unaware of her pregnancy, is forced to back out of his promise to marry her when his neglectful father makes him marry an heiress to rescue the family fortunes. The illegitimate Trista vows not to let any man make her his kept woman. She flees to relatives, telling them that the baby is the child of a deceased sea-captain, and she his widow. Trista spends seven years raising her child and working in a London millinery before a chance encounter brings Roman back into her life.
Roman is tenacious in his pursuit of the woman who got away, the one person with whom he ever felt a spiritual connection. Though he has spent the intervening years in true dissolute rake mode, he never had a true relationship with his deceased wife, and certainly never came close to the kind of bond he and Trista had. Trista, meanwhile, is caught between a rock and a hard place. Although she can still feel the old spark there with Roman, she despises what she sees as his cowardice in refusing to wed her when they were young, and she is equally torn because he knows nothing about his now six-year-old son, Andrew, who has a stable and comfortable home life with their close family. Also, Trista has never come to terms with her father, who left her and her mother to their fate, and she can’t quite separate Roman from this mysterious figure.
The plot thickens when Trista receives a mysterious visit from a Lady May Hayworth, a total stranger and yet one with startling news for her. Lady May is the sister of Trista’s errant father, who, it seems, was a duke. Not only that but Lady May is delighted to inform her that she is now a considerable heiress and with her own personal support, she will be launched into society. Trista agrees to this, happy that her son will now have security and she will be able to reward her own family who supported them for so long. This has the unfortunate consequence for Trista of bringing her back into close contact with Roman, who has been longing to reunite with her, but whom she very firmly discourages. The tension as they are publicly brought together is superbly wrought.
There are some significant secondary plots. Roman’s sister Grace, who as a child was jealous of Trista, has never gotten over this. Grace does her best to needle Trista, all the while doing her best to ignore Roman’s childhood partner in mischief, Jason Knightsbridge, now a vicar and paying the grown-up Grace an unwarranted amount of attention. Also, Lady May comes to play an important part in the story. As the fairy godmother tracking down her deceased brother’s illegitimate offspring, she has her own troubles of the heart. May’s relationship with a man of mystery was featured in the first book as well; in this book, that mystery deepens.
The reason for the overall success of this novel, however, didn’t have much to do with these distracting secondary plots. Roman is so exquisitely written a hero that, though he has done a grave wrong to his soulmate in the past, he remains so adorable in his pursuit of her that I gladly forgave him. We learn that he was devastated by Trista’s earlier disappearance from his life, and that in his own way he regarded this as a cutting betrayal no worse than his own. After all, she knew him better than anyone and realized that he would have done anything to capture his distant yet adored father’s attention. The early chapters that charmingly relate Roman and Trista’s past, and their dramatic reunion, carry the book very firmly into B grade territory. There was something so deliciously and compelling Heathcliff and Cathyish about their bond that it was rather deflating to read the way the novel later divided up its focus onto other, lesser characters.
As much as I loved Roman and found the tension between he and Trista intriguing, their two-second bedroom scenes were unconvincing, A perhaps larger issue was the lack of physical descriptions for these characters. Too much was left to the imagination, and I was never able to get a clear picture of the two in my head.
Aside from those niggles, this book was wonderfully crafted, and there can be no doubt about this author’s skill, though it has to be said this is the first time I have heard her name. On the whole, The Heiress of Hyde Park was a delightful surprise, and has certainly reaffirmed my faith in historical romances. It has my heartfelt recommendation, and I can only hope the author gets the recognition she deserves.