Desert Isle Keeper
The Lady in Red
After years of reviewing romance novels, you become jaded about certain things. For myself, I’ve come to have somewhat low expectations of novellas. I love these bite-size stories, but I’ve found that often, the shortened timeline can take a toll on the romance. I’m thrilled to say that problem doesn’t hold true for Kelly Bowen’s The Lady in Red.
This novella is final story in the A Season for Scandal series, and tangentially involves King, the enigmatic black-marketeer who first appears in Hero of My Heart. Lady Charlotte Beaumont approaches King and asks for his help in getting a job; specifically, she wishes to paint the murals for an important church. Charlotte has grown up ignored by her family, taking refuge in developing her painting skills while the world essentially passes her by. Now, aged twenty-three, she’s determined to attain her dream of becoming an artist whose works see more than an attic, even though women are not accepted as professional artists at this time.
Enter the Haverhall School for Young Ladies. This school is a focus of Ms. Bowen’s new Devils of Dover series, and it is no ordinary finishing school. Rather, its ‘exclusive programs’ are a well-honed system to secretly establish skilled women in male-dominated professions. In other words, once King pulls his strings to get her into the school, Charlotte abruptly finds herself disguised as a young man and sent off to paint the church. Very little of the actual process is shown here – just enough to whet my appetite for the author’s next book.
To accomplish the job, Charlotte (or ‘Charlie’) will be working with Flynn Rutledge, an already established painter who isn’t too thrilled to find himself saddled with a nobody for a partner. Flynn’s initial objections are soon silenced, though, as he looks over Charlotte’s sketches and comes to understand her skill. But what truly endears Charlotte to her coworker is the passion she is able to inspire in Flynn. He’s floundering, uncertain of his ability to carry on as an artist, until she arrives in his life. As she starts questioning his plans for the murals, making little observations about the direction he’s taking, it’s as though something is unlocked in Flynn. Her shared perspective helps get him out of his artist’s block.
What is unique about this story of rekindled spirit is the insight and wisdom shown by the characters. Flynn’s resurgence of creativity does not come when he realizes Charlotte is a woman and instantly desires her. Rather, her insightful comments draw him out of his shell and help him engage with his work again. He is aware of and grateful for the changes she brings about in him before he is ever aware of her gender – which is why he is so drawn to her once he knows she is a woman.
After he understands who Charlotte is, Flynn begins to help her overcome her own struggles as well. I was blown away by how honest and direct these two are with each other. This is not a Christmas story where the magic of the season just pulls everyone into a happy-ever-after; instead it’s a story of two people who grow close as they share their vulnerabilities and help each other work through problems. It just happens to take place around Christmas.
I could probably write my own novella just gushing about The Lady in Red, I loved it so much. But rather than pasting in lines of dialogue to prove my point, I’ll simply suggest you go read it. It’s a bite-sized story which packs quite a punch – deep characters, meaningful dialogue, disguises, triumphs, travails, and a happy-ever-after at the end.