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Thursday, September 20, 2007

An Unladylike Offer

****½ An Unladylike Offer by Christine Merrill. Historical romance.

I read this for the Cherry Forums Book Club. Unfortunately, I missed the discussion. You can find it here.

Esme Canville is desperate. She's been subjected to her father's abuse since her mother abandoned them, and now her last hope for escape through marriage is gone: the man her father has chosen to marry her off to is old, and just as cruel as her father.

Banished to her room, she watches out the window and sees a shocking scene: Cpt. St. John Radwell and his mistress having an argument. St. John has let his mistress go, but what's so amazing to Esme, giving her an idea and a glimmer of hope, is that despite the mistress screaming and throwing things, St. John remained calm and never laid a hand on her.

St. John needs a mistress; Esme needs an escape. He's a kind man, and while becoming a mistress will ruin her in the eyes of society, she's been kept from society anyway, so it's no great loss.

So she sneaks out of the house at night and propositions him.

St. John, however, has been trying to turn over a new leaf. He's tired of war, and semi-estranged from his family after trying to seduce his brother's bride (in the preceding book, which is still in my TBR pile). The last thing his reputation needs is to seduce a virgin, and a lady. Adding to the urgency is his last chance to make something of himself: an inheritance he'll receive only if he remains scandal-free for a year. So he swallows his pride and bundles her off to his brother's house for safekeeping.

This pair is just so.... likable, and easy to sympathize with. St. John is truly trying to make amends to his family, and he doesn't deny or minimize his sins--in fact, he accepts more blame than he's really due, understanding that his past is the cause of the suspicion.

Esme, too, is strong and brave and... I was going to say self-effacing, but that's not really it. Both of them are distinctly lacking in a sense of entitlement that I found very appealing. They're both trying to improve their lives, but they're trying to do so by their own efforts. I fell in love with them both.

I also really liked the authentic feel of this story. So often in Regency romances, the characters end up flouting society's rules with impunity. Not so, here. For example, they have to come up with ingenious ways to keep Esme out of her father's and his choice of bridegroom's clutches, and to explain her absence, rather than just spiriting her away.

I'm looking forward to digging An Inconvenient Duchess out of the TBR pile, and I'll be keeping an eye open for Chris's next book: A Wicked Liaison.


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