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Lady Wesley's Salon

Historical romance.

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The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures, #6)
Jennifer Ashley
The Baron's Betrothal: An On-Again, Off-Again, On-Again Regency Romance (Horsemen of the Apocalypse #2) - Miranda Davis Blurb: Poor William Tyler de Sayre, Lord Clun, finds true love while hoping to avoid the catastrophe altogether by arranging a marriage to someone he’s never met. At the same time, Lady Elizabeth Chapin Damogan, whose father betrothed her to the baron without so much as a ‘by your leave,’ will be damned if she marries a man she’s never met, much less a man who refuses to consider the possibility of love.

This is the story of two very determined people learning to recognize that not all of their preconceptions about love and marriage are necessarily correct.

Our hero is William Tyler de Sayre, Baron Clun. He is dauntingly large, with a wild mane of black hair, a gruff manner of speaking, and a habit of scowling out from under his dark brows. Ladies and gentlemen alike find him intimidating, particularly given the fame he has earned as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, renowned for their ferocious exploits in the wars against Napoleon.

Clun has returned from the wars unscathed and is mindful of his duty to marry and beget an heir. He has no interest in subjecting himself to the “full horrors of the Marriage Mart,” so he arranges with the Earl of Morefield to marry his daughter, Lady Elizabeth Damogen. Clun has never met the lady, but he doesn’t need to. In his view, a “marriage required mutual honor, respect and wifely obedience. He wanted a sound marriage free of nincompoopery so he selected a spouse as his forebears had, based on rational considerations alone.”

Clun most assuredly does not want a marriage like his parents had. “Their marriage, begun in the heat of impulse, had curdled like fresh milk on a hot day and left a permanently sour taste in the mouths of man and wife ever after.” The final straw was when old Lord Clun insisted that his illegitimate son (born before his marriage) live with them after the boy’s mother died. Lady Clun was incensed. His father soon fled to London and lived out the rest of his life in contentment with his housekeeper; Clun rarely saw his father after that. From his mother, he received nothing but bitterness.
A parent’s harsh judgment of a child carries with it near-divine authority. Over time, it becomes a governing voice in that child’s head, whispering invective, raising doubts and quashing hope. Sadly, such a child might learn to ignore that belittling voice but he could not escape its corrosive effects. Thus it was with William Tyler de Sayre.

As William grew up, he still felt no love for his mother or absent father and concluded that perhaps his mother was right: he was cold and incapable of proper love. From his mother, William learned one more unforgettable lesson: no one inflicts more suffering than a woman embittered by disappointment in love. A resentful wife could drive off a husband and heap misery upon blameless children without a moment’s remorse.

The closest thing to love that Clun has ever experienced is his feeling for his half-brother, who serves as steward of Clun’s estate, along with unique affection, forged in war, that he shares with his three comrades.

Lady Elizabeth Damogen meanwhile has had a different experience. Her mother and father dearly loved one another, but her mother died in childbirth. Thereafter, the earl devoted himself to his wife's memory and to the study of etymology and left Elizabeth’s upbringing to a kindly widowed cousin. Mrs. Abeel taught her all of the things a lady was expected to know but also taught her to think for herself. Lady Elizabeth is well read, highly perceptive, empathetic, pretty but no great beauty, and rather tall. She’s no busybody, but she does like to “help” her friends when she sees a need. She’s had one season, but it didn’t amount to much. Her father was concerned that she might fall prey to a fortune hunter, so Lord Clun’s proposal suited him exactly.

The arrangement did not suit Elizabeth, however, and although she is devoted to her father, she is incensed to learn that he has bound her to this unknown lord, who for all she knows is a doddering old fool who feeds the hounds from the table. She reckons there must be something awful about him if he’s unable to attract a wife from among the ladies of his acquaintance. She resents being “bartered away like a prize heifer,” so when she hears that he is in London and ready to marry, she flees London and hides out in the last place anyone would expect – a remote cottage on the vast estate of Lord Clun himself.

And there begins our tale – when Lord Clun and Lady Elizabeth meet by happenstance, neither at first knowing who the other is. Lady Elizabeth proudly tells Clun that she plans to hide out there until she reaches her majority and can do as she pleases. Clun is intrigued, and strangely attracted to this outspoken woman. Secretly, he is pleased that his bride is not the “horse-faced, ham-ankled” woman he had expected. Lady Elizabeth finds this country bumpkin, “sculpted like a Roman athlete,” rather appealing, which only reinforces her determination not to marry a foolish old baron who is too much of a spineless coward to propose marriage in person.

Clun, thinking to have a little fun, does not reveal his true identity to Lady Elizabeth. As he gets better acquainted with her, though, he learns that she is determined to marry for love or not at all. She wants a husband who will love her forever, the way her father loved her late mother. When Lady Elizabeth eventually learns who Clun really is, she is at first furious at his deception, but then she realizes that she might come to love him and he her. The rest of this book is the touching, frustrating, truly on-again, off-again story of Clun and Elizabeth figuring out whether and how they can find a happy ending together. They laugh, argue, dance, and struggle to appreciate one another's hopes and fears.

This book is quite different from the light-spirited [b:The Duke's Tattoo|13575994|The Duke's Tattoo (Horsemen of the Apocalypse, #1)|Miranda Davis|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1341363275s/13575994.jpg|19158253]. This romance is darker, more troubled, more complicated, and ultimately more affecting than the first book. At the same time, though, it is filled with the humor and sparkling dialogue that made The Duke’s Tattoo so engaging. The secondary characters are deftly drawn – including Clun’s half-brother, Tyler Rodwell, his ghastly mother, and Lady Elizabeth’s sweet but withdrawn father.

We see more of the other three Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and I’m eager to read the stories of Lord Seelye and Mr. Percy. The (tattooed) Duke and Duchess of Ainsworth play an important role in bringing Clun and Elizabeth to their happy ending, and the Epilogue features a somber reminder of the dangers of childbirth in the early 19th century, as the Horsemen await the birth of the Ainsworths’ twins. It’s all HEA, though, of course.

By the end of the book, I liked Lady Elizabeth immensely, but I just flat fell in love with Clun. I want to time-travel back to 1815 and marry him myself!

Miranda Davis has a marvelous talent for creating fascinating characters, putting just the right words in their mouths, and setting a plot that keeps the reader engaged. This story is just lovely, and if the last paragraph doesn’t put a lump in your throat, then why are you reading romance?

Full disclosure: I’ve never met the author, but we have become friends on Goodreads. I read an earlier draft of this book, made a few observations, and helped proof the final version.