The Hidden Heart
Why don’t authors who like to write characters with modern sensibilities just stick to writing contemporary romances? Someone please explain it to me. Please! If an author wants a heroine to have no qualms about premarital sex, to have little respect for the dictates of society, to have democratic, populist ideas, why not just write contemporaries? Those kinds of beliefs and ideals fit well into a modern setting. But they are death in an historical romance as far as I’m concerned. The Hidden Heart is a book that illustrates my point clearly and precisely.
Jessica Maitland is a woman with few resources. Several years ago, her father was cashiered from the military in disgrace and then died in a tavern brawl. Jessica was left with no family and no income. Out of the blue, her father’s former superior, General Streathern, sought her out and offered her a position in his household as a governess to his great-niece, Gabriela. For Jessica it was an answer to her prayers, and the positive relationship she developed with her charge was an added bonus. When General Streathern suffered a stroke, he entreated Jessica to take Gabriela to Richard, the Duke of Cleybourne, immediately should something happen to him. The General named Richard Gabriela’s guardian in his will and fears that if Jessica waits too long, the girl’s cousin, Lord Vesey, will assume guardianship. Lord Vesey, unfortunately, has a thing for young girls.
When the General does die, Jessica keeps her promise and she and Gabriela hightail it over to Castle Cleybourne where Richard refuses to see either of them. It takes a great deal of “persuasion” (read: bullying) on Jessica’s part to get him to agree just to house them overnight. You see, the deaths of his wife and child four years ago have depressed the duke so badly that he’s come to Castle Cleybourne to die – if necessary, by his own hand. He can’t see how meeting his new ward would benefit either him or her, and he doesn’t want to be around a child who might remind him of what he lost.
Fortunately for Jessica, Lord Vesey and his wife follow her to Castle Cleybourne determined to wrest the guardianship of Gabriela away from the duke. Richard cannot in all good conscience abandon the girl to a known pedophile, so he decides to let them stay and put on a good front for the Veseys until he can make better arrangements. But while Jessica, Richard, and the Veseys are all trying to get the upper hand, someone is causing a disturbance at the castle. Someone who may be a danger to all of them. Someone who may have killed before.
This book had a couple of things going for it, things that were unfortunately squandered in execution. The fact that Richard was suffering from chronic depression was interesting. This man wasn’t just angsty, he was truly, lethargically, depressed. One rarely encounters a legitimately depressed person in romance, and I was hoping that Camp would explore Richard’s mental state a little, delve into his psyche. Unfortunately, once Richard meets Jessica and she spunks him out of his “funk,” Richard doesn’t act depressed anymore. They have a little talk about his personal tragedy, and, poof! Sayonara, four years of clinical depression. What a wasted opportunity.
Jessica is likable, and I appreciated how she took responsibility for her own welfare and refused to be pushed around, but her entire demeanor is twenty-first century woman masquerading as Regency governess. She has no awe for Richard, a man who is so much her social superior. He’s a duke, for goodness sake, one step away from royalty, and she’s barely gentry, the niece of a baron. She treats him like she treats Gabriela, only worse. She’s not even polite, really. All of this she justifies because he needs someone to wake him up from his depression. She gives orders to his servants, all of whom love the duke (of course) and only want the best for him (of course). It is so incredibly unlikely that the butler would take orders from the new interloper governess and in doing so, flaunt the wishes of his real employer. And for once, just once, can we please have a nobleman who isn’t loved to pieces by his staff? He doesn’t have to be a bastard, but, really, how many of these dukes, marquises and earls would really have taken the time to know and love their tenants? Even the responsible ones would probably looked at their estate duties as duties and not labors of love.
On the sexual front, the book is terribly exasperating. Richard and Jessica make out, get interrupted, then make out some more, and then get interrupted again. This goes on and on until the consummation scene which is – surprisingly – undetailed. After all that teasing, one would expect a little more oomph when the job finally gets done. Jessica also seemed astonishingly unconcerned with the prospect of losing her virginity. She tosses it to the winds without a qualm. And (of course) she is one of those ubiquitous, naturally sensual innocents. Where do all these totally inexperienced, yet profoundly responsive women come from?
And then there’s the tiresome Vile Leona, as my colleague, Mary Sophia, named her. She is Vesey’s wife and her sexual shenanigans take up a considerable amount of page space for no apparent reason. She must be there to fulfill the villainous slut quota. But does there have to be a villainous slut and does she have to be so thoroughly Eeevil?
The Hidden Heart wasn’t hard to read, but there were numerous purplish or seemingly strange descriptions that caused me to frown. I found Richard and Jessica’s modern sensibilities off-putting, and their mental lusting got on my nerves, but the murder mystery wasn’t too dull. It wasn’t very mysterious, but, on the other hand, it didn’t bore me into a coma either, and I was surprised a bit at the way the story twisted at the end. Still, apparently Camp can do better, so I would suggest you read the Swept Away instead of this one.