In the first two delightful volumes of this series, Tessa Dare introduced us to Spindle Cove, a Sussex coastal hamlet run by an extraordinary group of females. Women who don’t quite fit in to genteel society – spinsters, bluestockings, abandoned wives, and even the odd promiscuous young miss – find a haven among the denizens of the Queen’s Ruby rooming house.
Miss Kate Taylor has found a comfortable life there teaching music to the visiting young ladies. Their cozy retreat was disturbed a year ago, however, when several of the King’s soldiers arrived to organize a militia to protect Spindle Cove from invasion by Napoleon. And for Miss Taylor, no man was more disturbing than the large, dark, taciturn Corporal Thorne. Although he pointedly ignored her, his very presence made her skin prickle, and her efforts to be friendly were invariably rewarded by his finding some excuse to leave her company.
Kate is a orphan, a foundling educated at the forbidding Margate school, who has never attracted the notice of any man. Although she is relentlessly cheerful and chatty, she is self-conscious about a port wine birthmark on her temple and believes that Thorne is repelled by it and her. One day, however, when she finds herself stranded in nearby Hastings without sufficient funds to return to Spindle Cove, Corporal Thorne comes to her rescue. On the way home, they share a passionate kiss, and Kate discovers that Thorne harbors a deep attraction to her, along with a surprisingly fiery protectiveness. When they arrive in Spindle Cove and find a decidedly odd family of aristocrats waiting to meet Kate, Thorne is immediately suspicious. When this family declares that Kate may be a long-lost illegitimate cousin, Thorne decides she needs protection from these strange strangers and declares himself to be her fiancé.
Kate goes along with Thorne’s deception, agreeing with him that if she is indeed taken into the Gramercy family she can break the betrothal and Thorne can follow his plans to leave the army and move to America. There are many more secrets to be revealed, however, about not only Kate’s past but also Corporal Thorne’s. (Some of the early reviews, I think, give too much away, so perhaps should be avoided.) Kate finds herself falling in love with the handsome, forbidding Thorne, and Thorne finds it hard to resist her tempting charms.
Along the way, we are treated to visits by Bram and Susanna (from A Night to Surrender) and Colin and Minerva (from A Week to Be Wicked). Their stories were fun and filled with humor, but A Lady by Midnight
is much more somber and touching. Still, Dare fills the story with good humor and her usual collection of entertaining secondary characters, a disastrous ball, and a farcical duel. I can’t wait to return to Spindle Cove, but how will I bear to wait until 2013 for Any Duchess Will Do?
One final note: although this books works well as a stand alone, I think that for maximum enjoyment the series really should be read in order.
Heartfelt thanks to Avon and Edelweiss for giving me the opportunity to read an ARC of this highly recommended story.