Pocket, ISBN # 0-671-73784-8
Raised in the Colonies, Caroline Richmond’s first significant act upon her return to England is to single-handedly come to the rescue of a dandy who has been set upon by thugs. She shoots two of the bandits while the injured gentleman whimpers and whines inside his carriage – he has been wounded in an anatomically delicate place, but grieves more over his ruined boots than the near loss of his (love) life!
From this, Caroline concludes that all English gentlemen are fops, and so is overwhelmed when Jered Benton, the Duke of Bradford, masculinity personified, arrives on the scene. Bradford is enthralled by the courageous and beautiful violet-eyed lady who, not certain whether he is friend or foe, threatens to shoot his horse if he doesn’t drop his weapon! Completely obsessed by wanting Caroline, Bradford begins a campaign to win her, in spite of the fact that she is terrified of, and even angered by, his insistent pursuit. He wants her in his bed, and says so; she wants his love and trust, and says so. Therein lies the tale.
As the story unfolds, Caroline is reunited with the father she hasn’t seen for years (who sent her to Boston at age four to protect her from danger). He, along with Caroline’s friend Charity (in pursuit of a long-lost love), and Lord Milfordhurst, who is Jared’s close friend, round out the cast. As is Garwood’s way, these characters serve a definite purpose in terms of characterization and moving the story forward. Lord Milfordhurst acts as a common-sense buffer and go-between for our two lovers while helping Charity find and get her man gives Caroline the opportunity to engage in some problem solving.
Mainly, though, there is Caroline and Jared, and a plot to hurt her, which both brings them together, then threatens to tear them apart. This is not a typical Garwood romance in that the conflict is more internal than in her other romances. However, it is certainly not an “I hate you, now let’s go to bed” romance either. Rather, the conflict comes from the inherently different perspectives from which men and women approach relationships and problem solving.
Caroline Richmond is more her own woman than many heroines I’ve read. While she is both beautiful and smart, she is also tenacious, gutsy, clever, naively honest, kind-hearted, and very loving. Although Caroline is overwhelmingly attracted to Bradford (and comes to realize she loves him), she won’t settle for less than the best he can offer: marriage, love, trust. She doesn’t understand why Bradford consistently distrusts her. Caroline has good instincts, too, as when she guides Charity into the arms of her own true love, who has been so terribly wounded as to have become a recluse. Caroline knows how to bring out the best in others. She helps them become stronger because she believes they can move mountains if only they use the right approach.
Jered Marcus Benton, the Duke of Bradford, is One Alpha Male – albeit, with a sense of humor about most things. He’s handsome, intelligent, wealthy, bold, heroic, and as equally determined to get what he wants as is Caroline. A rakish hellion (and mostly ignored) younger son, Bradford never expected to inherit. So, when his father and elder brother are killed five years earlier, he is suddenly forced into responsibility and respectability. Bradford does not know the first thing about love – his parents had spent all their affections on the late heir. Toss in an early humiliation and betrayal perpetrated by those he trusted, and you have a wary man, unwilling to risk his heart, and who has the financial and physical power to make things happen any way he wants. The fact that his terse edicts may come from a sincere wish to do the right thing, is lost on Caroline; Bradford fails to understand that Caroline is capable of trust and wants to be involved in decisions that affect her life.
Caroline and her Duke are perfectly matched: strong-willed and smart, unbending and passionate, they epitomize male/female relationships in that they approach issues from totally divergent perspectives. She wants him to love her and to trust her; he feels love is really just lust, and that his orders should be followed without question (after all, he’s a man and a duke, and she’s just a woman). It’s the charming and clever way in which Caroline brings Bradford around that makes the difference.
One aspect of the story did bother me. After an accident very nearly kills Caroline, Bradford determines he must end his relationship with Caroline in an effort to “protect” her, his reasoning being that if it appears he has lost interest, she will be safe. To make it appear more realistic, he doesn’t even tell her why he’s dropped her, and I didn’t like that. It is a typical romance premise for the hero to leave the heroine in order to protect her, but I expect more from a Garwood hero!
This all reminded me of the “guys” who, after what you thought was a great date, said, “I’ll call you,” and you never heard from them again. All women have had this happen to them, or at least to their best friends or sisters. We never know why they don’t call, they just don’t and it’s hurtful. Seeing this happen to Caroline, and how she had to cope with the confusion and pain, was too close to the real thing for me, and it made me mad at Bradford (well, temporarily – the man was just to hunky to ignore for long).
Luckily, Lord Milfordhurst intervenes, the result of which is one of the steamiest reunion scenes I’ve read, one which also includes a good deal of that trademark Garwood humor. To protect her, he will marry Caroline. When she says no, his plan to win her results in a scene which should be read more than once – once for the lust factor and once again (at least) for the laughter.
There’s lots more to the book, but I don’t want to give it away. Let me just say that Julie Garwood has hit dead-on, and with a fair amount of humor, some strategic differences between men and women. How Caroline assesses how she will deal with Bradford, and then how she goes about turning him slowly to her way of thinking, is funny and smart. She understands that “Jered” and “the Duke” are two different facets of the same man, and that she can love both of them. Julie Garwood’s Caroline is the best we women have to offer: intelligence, inner strength, loyalty, courage, wit, charm, and humor. Read this book.
— Marianne Stillings
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