Been longing for real jerk of a hero? Someone who will treat his true love like dirt and blame it on her? Well then, read on!
Lucy Abbington is attending the London Season under protest. She’s never been much interested in society or marriage, as she sees them as incompatible with her dream of becoming a veterinarian. While she doesn’t rule out marriage, she doesn’t believe she will ever find a man who won’t try to change her and prevent her from healing animals. And having been rejected once before for being merely the daughter of a country doctor and granddaughter to an obscure baron, she knows her breeding and small dowry are not designed to make her a success.
She meets Henry Ashton, the Marquess of Mandeville and neighbor to the friends who are sponsoring her Season, while both are out riding. Much to his astonishment, she diagnoses and takes charge of his limping horse. That night he calls her to his stables to help in the foaling of his favorite mare. He is all admiration for her skills and feels a powerful attraction for, but pulls away from her. Because of his mother’s behavior and own fiancé’s infidelity, Henry suffers from All Women Are Sluts Syndrome and, all evidence to the contrary where Lucy is concerned, he will not be dissuaded. Love will not make a fool of him; besides, he’s a reform-minded Whig with important things to do.
This doesn’t stop him from kissing Lucy silly and then blaming it on her. Their first kiss occurs during the above mentioned foaling. They have successfully delivered the foal, they are comfortable with each other, and he doesn’t denigrate her in any way – until he kisses her. Then he is shocked at his behavior and accuses her of trying to entrap him into marriage. But he repents of his hasty temper after she leaves. Their second kiss occurs in London when he is angry that she has been smiling at her dancing partner (the scheming slut!) and after the kiss and grope, he tells her “Do not fall in love with me… I will not marry you.” But he repents of his hasty temper after she leaves. Nice guy.
Ms. Cook goes to some length to tell us that he is a nice guy; he is working for reform in Parliament, he plays with his niece and nephew, he rescues an injured dog. But in his dealings with Lucy he is so inconsistent and even cruel – I love her, I hate her; she’s different, she’s a tramp – that I had a thorough dislike of him by the end of Chapter Three.
I also found the timing of the love scenes to be inappropriate to the action of the storyline. The first kiss takes place just hours after they’ve met, and he’s sticking his tongue down her throat? Two scenes of physical intimacy take place immediately after Henry rescues Lucy from a suitor’s lascivious clutches. It just seemed inappropriate then, for Henry to quickly initiate an even more intimate physical contact. And then both of these encounters end with the patented, clichéd Love Sceneus Interruptus. Eventually Henry will figure out that he loves Lucy and plans to finally make love to her, though while he plots to get Lucy into his bed, he plans to marry somebody else.
And here’s another thing I didn’t like about Henry, and found very inconsistent in his character. His mother is, no doubt about it, a nasty piece of work. But he allows her far too much control over his life. I did not buy that a man in his thirties, a Marquess, a force to be reckoned with in Parliament, would not have put his mother in her place long ago. Instead she is allowed to unnecessarily complicate things very late in the game, a plot device that only served to extend the page count and my misery.
Lucy was a more attractive and sympathetic character. Despite some initial concerns about the veterinarian plotline, I found the scenes of animal doctoring to be interesting and was convinced of her abilities and calling. I was never convinced, however, of her love for a man who treated her in such a despicable fashion. She seemed to be a smart, capable person, until Henry kissed her and then she lost about 50 IQ points. Don’t you hate when that happens?
Any enjoyment I found in this smart, capable, and unusual heroine was completely overshadowed by the most irritating and schizophrenic hero I’ve read in some time. But it is not a total loss. I now know for whom I am voting as Most Annoying Lead Character in the AAR 2004 Reader Poll.