The Brides of Christmas

Devilish

The Devil's Heiress

The Dragon's Bride

Forbidden Magic

Hazard

In Praise of Younger Men

Lord of Midnight

Secrets of the Night

The Shattered Rose

Something Wicked

Star of Wonder

St. Raven

An Unwilling Bride

Winter Fire

 
Skylark by Jo Beverley
(Signet, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-21183-9
****
I was undoubtedly fated to enjoy Jo Beverley’s latest installment of her “Rogues” series. After all, it contains two of my favorite plot premises: second chance at love and friends becoming lovers. Add a perhaps unlikely but nevertheless enjoyable secondary plot and Skylark It is a truism demonstrated by contemporary science and implicitly understood by past generations that young women mature earlier than young men. Marriage practices recognized this fact; young women married older men (although not as old as sometimes thought; the average age differential was about 2-3 years, according to demographic data.) But what happens if one’s soul-mate, that individual who completes you, is your own age? This was the dilemma faced by young Stephen Ball.

Laura Watcombe was his near neighbor and his sister’s best friend. They had grown up together, the two years between them seeming inconsequential. Then Laura turned eighteen and came out socially. The dashing Corinthian, Hal Gardeyne had come a courting. The son of a viscount, older and experienced, Hal turned Laura’s head and she had fallen headlong into love. Stephen, at 20, was still at university. He had excellent future prospects but no present. Still, he tried to convince Laura that she was making a mistake, that they were meant to be together. But Laura simply had never thought of Stephen as a suitor; he was too young.

Six years have passed since the day that Stephen declared his love; five years have passed since Laura married Hal; eleven months have passed since Hal broke his neck in a hunting accident. Laura finds herself immured with her husband’s family, her unpleasant father-in-law and her strange mother-in-law. Her only comfort is her three year old son, Harry. But, rightly or wrongly, Laura begins to suspect that Harry’s Uncle Jack - desirous of having the title to himself - has designs on her son’s life. A suspicious accident fuels her fears. When Lord Caldfort becomes nervous and upset after receiving a mysterious letter, Laura’s concerns mount. She even goes so far as to steal into Lord Caldfort’s study to peruse the letter.

Thus, when Sir Stephen Ball - who just happened to be in the neighborhood - drops in, Laura is very glad to see him indeed. Of course, there is nothing chancy about Stephen’s appearance. He has come to court Laura and to redress the mistake that was made all those years ago. Stephen soon senses that Laura is upset. He convinces her to confide in her old friend. Thus, Laura tells him about her fears for Harry and about the strange letter about one “HG” an apparent threat to his lordship’s fortune and position. An Arabic villain, Azir al Farouk, promises to “remove” the problem in exchange for £10,000.

Laura decides that this HG can only be the child of Lord Caldfort’s nephew, who was lost at sea years ago and who would be the rightful heir to the title. She is actually pleased that Harry might be disinherited; at least then he will be safe. She and Stephen determine to visit the seaside village where Farouk is waiting to hear from Caldfort to ferret out the truth and save “HG.”

Of course, sharing the adventure brings Laura and Stephen together. It also permits them to rediscover each other and to learn how each has changed and grown over the intervening years. Stephen has become a rising political figure with a bright future ahead of him. Laura, a dashing social success, nicknamed “Lady Skylark” by Stephen and “Labellelle” by society, has become something more than merely beautiful.

Beverley has always had the gift for creating fully developed and interesting characters. Her skill is much on display here. We get to know Laura very well. We understand that she is no longer the heedless young matron who had flown so high in London society. Motherhood and widowhood have matured her. She wants to know if Stephen loves an image or the woman she has become. Stephen is an attractive hero; he is the thoughtful “rogue” who uses his head and has a natural capacity for leadership. His long-lived devotion to his Laura rings true and enhances his attractiveness.

There are enough realistic doubts and uncertainties on the part of our hero and heroine to make the romance interesting. The mystery plot is a bit far-fetched, although Beverley has rooted it in the events of the day. Of the rogues, only Nicholas makes an appearance and his role is not overdone.

All in all, Skylark is vintage Beverley: good characters, a well-developed romance, a fine sense of time and place, an acceptable plot premise. In short, a most enjoyable read.

--Jean Mason


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