What a Lady Most Desires
When a book has a shirtless guy with flowing hair on the cover, I know it’s a romance, but I also can’t quite help the urge to pass it by. I wasn’t a fan of the clinch covers of old, and the modern, giant-chested heroes who apparently hate shirts don’t do much for me either. And yet it would be a real shame to miss What a Lady Most Desires. It’s actually a heartfelt and quite romantic romance, one I’m very glad I found.
On the eve of the battle of Waterloo, Lady Delphine St. James has come to Belgium with her sister, a colonel’s wife, and the two attend a ball in Brussels. There Delphine comes face to face with Major Lord Stephen Ives, the man she has been attracted to since first meeting him as a debutante back in England. Stephen also recalls meeting Delphine, but in his recollections she was nothing more than an empty-headed flirt, and he has no desire to be strung along by her. The ball gets interrupted by a call to battle and in the excitement, Delphine and Stephen kiss and she gives him a token to take to battle.
And then we get to the aftermath of battle. Lecia Cornwall does a good job of showing readers the pain and mixed emotions that accompany the end of the fighting, as well as the complete confusion which can reign during and immediately after a battle. After all, with limited technology, it could be hard to get accurate accountings of who was where and when, who survived, and so on. Stephen gets brought to the home of Delphine’s sister, gravely injured and blind. Shortly thereafter, in a confusing turn of events, he finds himself accused of cowardice and theft from fellow soldiers in his regiment.
Stephen returns to England, determined to fight the charges. He stays in the home of a friend to recuperate and also to be kept under watch until his court-martial. Delphine manages to secure an invitation to the same country estate for herself and there devotes herself to Stephen’s care. In some tellings, the heroine’s complete unwillingness to believe that the hero (whom she barely knows, after all) might be guilty would seem naive. Not so here. Cornwall provides readers both with enough pieces of the puzzle and with enough hints to Stephen’s character that Delphine’s faith doesn’t seem misplaced for a minute.
However, the story also works because the author provides just enough hints and easily misinterpreted clues that one can see where the authorities got the idea to charge Stephen in the first place. And so goes a story both tense and emotional. Can Stephen prove his innocence? More importantly, will he find his way out of the dark prison in which he sits? He at least realizes early on that he underestimated Delphine and he grows to respect and love her dearly. That part of the story flowed well and felt both touching and passionate. And I loved that Stephen would be willing to reassess his opinions and admit mistakes rather than going the, “I’m the man and I’m always right even when I’m not” route.
The book has its weak spots. After all, Stephen and Delphine face some pretty giant obstacles, and some of the plot machinations that get them over these hurdles feel just a little too convenient. Liking the leads and most of the rest of the cast of this story will make many readers turn a blind eye, but there were a few plot points in the second half that just niggled at me, so I have to mention it.
If you love emotional love stories and historicals planted deep in actual historical events, What a Lady Most Desires is full of delights. I found it a thoroughly enjoyable romance.