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

Skylark

Something Wicked

Star of Wonder

St. Raven

An Unwilling Bride

Winter Fire

 
A Most Unsuitable Man
by Jo Beverley
(Signet, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-21423-4
*****
If anyone ever needed any confirmation that Jo Beverley is in a class by herself, A Most Unsuitable Man is the proof. It’s romantic, it’s sexy, it’s smart, and it’s very hard to put down. Even better, in a time when a disappointing number of historical romance authors don’t bother to do their homework, Ms. Beverley’s story resonates with a seamless blend of fiction and historical fact.

A Most Unsuitable Man takes up at almost exactly the point where the previous Malloren novel, Winter Fire left off. Amidst an unusual grouping of friends and relations at Rothgar Abbey for Christmas, the Marquess of Ashart has just announced that he wishes to make Miss Genova Smith his wife.

This outrages Damaris Myddleton, an heiress ambitious for a noble marriage who believed that Ashart was promised to her. Before Damaris can disrupt the proceedings too much, she is swiftly and efficiently removed from the scene by Octavius Fitzroger. Humiliated, Damaris tries to flee Rothgar Abbey and the way her life was changed by a massive inheritance from the father she barely knew.

Fitz, whom Damaris knows only as Ashart’s friend and sometime errand boy, has been trying to deflect her attention from Ashart and he now offers to befriend her. Fitz suggests that a flirtation with him will convince everyone that she was only slightly inconvenienced by Ashart’s defection. Naturally, no one will take the flirtation seriously, since Fitz is a plain ‘mister’ – not the peer she is openly seeking – and a social outcast thanks to his part in a family scandal with tragic consequences. In other words, most unsuitable.

Fitz also persuades Damaris to petition the Marquess of Rothgar to assume her guardianship from his curmudgeonly uncle, Lord Henry Malloren. Rothgar not only agrees, but suggests that Damaris travel to London with Ash and Genova, to be presented at court and find the husband she wants. This will also serve the dual purpose of allowing her to remain under Fitz’s watchful eye. Fitz, it seems, is not an idle hanger-on, but is actually assigned to protect Ash from threats that have been made against his life. Threats that seem to have escalated now that he plans to marry.

It’s going to be really easy to tell you why I loved this book.

The situation is captivating and Ms. Beverley’s plotting is flawless – everything that happens, including a couple of unexpected twists, rings absolutely true to the situation and the characters. The threads connecting the plot to the reign of Charles II add an extra dimension of authenticity. My preference would have been to inhale the book in one sitting; that being impossible, I snatched any spare moments I could find to devour another few pages.

The characters, both familiar and new, are complex, imperfect (um, well, expect perhaps for the indomitable Rothgar), and the hero and heroine gain our liking and respect as they struggle, and sometimes stumble, as they try to find the right path. Damaris, in particular, might have been an easy character to dislike, but Ms. Beverley shows us the events that brought her to this point in life, allowing us to sympathize with her rather than judge her.

Fitz is a joy; a hero to everyone but himself, and the reader can only cheer him on as he searches for self-acceptance and the possibility of happiness. The sexual tension builds inexorably, as the characters get to know themselves and each other better, making the eventual release enormously satisfying.

This is a hugely rewarding story of the triumph of love - quite simply, Jo Beverley at the top of her game.

-- Judi McKee


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