Too Dangerous for a Lady
If Jo Beverley’s Company of Rogues series isn’t the longest running series in historical romance, then it’s certainly one of them, and it’s to Ms Beverley’s credit that she doesn’t appear to have run out of ideas yet! The central character in Too Dangerous for a Lady is – in the author’s own words – “an anti-terrorist undercover cop” – who has infiltrated a band of British would-be revolutionaries. The idea of terrorism in Regency England may at first glance seem rather far-fetched, but in fact, it was a time of much unrest and discontent among the people, who were frequently subject to harsh and unjust laws and who were suffering as a result of the severe food shortages caused by the failure of the harvests in 1816. Add to that the influx of returning soldiers unable to find employment and there were parts of the country that were balanced on a knife edge.
Former army officer Mark Thayne is the son of a British aristocrat and a French émigrée whose family was wiped out during the Reign of Terror. Her experiences and losses left Mark’s mother suffering from what we might today identify as a form of PTSD and eventually, she took her own life. During his time in the army, Mark ran the odd undercover mission, and now he has returned to England, determined to do as much as he can to prevent the eruption of the same sort of violence that was unleashed in France over a decade earlier. To that end, he has infiltrated an organisation known as the Crimson Band, which is headed by Julius Waite and his French wife, Solange, a dangerous fanatic who will stop at nothing in order to gain her objective.
The story opens as Mark, having stolen some important documents from Solange, is forced to take refuge in one of the other rooms at the inn at which the group is staying. Unfortunately for him, the room is occupied by a young woman and her two nephews, who are en route to the North of England with the boys’ parents in order to visit an elderly relative.
He assures he woman that he will not harm them – but cannot leave until he is certain he will not be pursued. She is certain the intruder must be a thief, but as they converse, a chord of recognition strikes. They realise that they met – just once – at a ball five years earlier when the newly commissioned Lieutenant Thayne had danced with – and almost kissed – Lady Hermione Merryhew. Hermione is saddened at the thought that such a fine young man could have sunk so low as to have become a common thief, and Mark, knowing it’s safest for her to remain in the dark, allows her to continue under that misconception. But it’s quickly apparent that they have never forgotten each other and that the attraction they felt for each other remains as strong as it ever was. But much as he would like to be able to pick up where they left off and court Hermione openly, Mark knows that his way of life is not conducive to romantic entanglements, and it’s with much regret that he leaves her the following day.
Hermione’s late father was widely known as the Moneyless Marquess. Her family’s financial circumstances are widely known and are a joke throughout society – and given her lack of dowry, her marriage prospects are poor. She is currently traveling to the North of England with her sister and brother-in-law, to visit a dying relative reputed to have made a fortune in the East, in the hopes that he will leave them some money. She hates the idea of being so mercenary, but being eminently practical, knows the difference to their lives that even a few hundred pounds could make.
She can’t get Thayne out of her thoughts however, and when fate takes a hand and Hermione is made an unwitting target for the revolutionaries, Mark finds his loyalties are divided. He needs to assure Hermione’s safety as she journeys father north, but also has to get to London to impart the information in his possession to his superiors. A chance meeting and offer of help from an old army friend gives Mark the breathing space he needs, but he is nonetheless determined that his feelings for Hermione can’t be allowed to distract him from his purpose.
Mark and Hermione are engaging characters who are clearly well-suited, and their path to happiness is definitely not an easy one. His family circumstances give Mark an almost compulsive need to actively prevent the sort of atrocities perpetrated in France and he’s not actually sure he will be able to settle to the life of a country gentleman of means –he’s a viscount – no matter how much he wants to make a life with Hermione. There are some moments of true heartbreak and poignancy in their story, but ultimately, the romance takes a back-seat to the counter-terrorism plot, which I actually didn’t mind because it was so richly detailed and well thought-out.
There are a few pacing issues around the middle of the story, and I did find it a little difficult to buy into the fact that, after one short meeting five years earlier, Mark and Hermione not only recognised each other but were falling for each other almost on the spot. But I was sufficiently interested in the historical background and other plot details that I was able to let that pass and go with the flow.
Several of the other Rogues make cameo appearances in this book, telling Hermione that she’s an honourary member courtesy of the fact that her late brother was one of their number, and we are also introduced to the hero of the next book, Mark’s old army buddy whose carefree, man-about-town lifestyle is about to be rudely curtailed. One of the things I most enjoyed about this story was the development of Hermione’s relationship with her great-uncle Edgar; he’s a bit of a curmudgeon who secretly admires her willingness to stand up to him, and they develop a mutual and genuine affection.
All in all, Too Dangerous for a Lady is an enjoyable tale that is exceptionally well-told. It’s perhaps a little light on the romance for some tastes, but I’m still grading it in the B range because I was fascinated by the historical background, the strength of which always shines through in Ms Beverley’s books. If you’re a fan of hers, or of historical romance that’s strong on the history, then you might want to add this to your wish list.