Although Promise Me Tomorrow is the middle volume in a trilogy by Candace Camp, and even though I had not read the first installment, for the most part it stood on its own quite nicely. The mechanics that set up the plot for all three books creaked a bit
-- I might have understood them better had I read A Stolen Heart first. Nevertheless, once the stage is set, Marianne Cotterwood's story entertains and amuses.
Lord and Lady Chilton, along with their three young children, are caught up by French Revolution. Unable to flee themselves, they entrust their children to a friend who is supposed to take them to safety with their grandparents in England. Promise Me Tomorrow is the story of the middle child, a five-year-old named Marie Anne.
In a series of events that neither I nor Marie Anne understood -- those creaking mechanics -- immediately after Marie Anne reached her grandmother's home in London, she was kidnapped and placed in a Dickensian orphanage. There she was renamed Mary Chilton and kept until she was fourteen when she was placed in service as a maid.
An attractive maid. Too attractive. The eldest son of her employer first courted her, then forced her. When she became pregnant, she was thrown out on the street. She would have ended up in the workhouse if she had not been adopted by a family of thieves who gave her a home throughout her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter, Rosalind.
After Rosalind was born, Mary Chilton became Marianne Cotterwood, a young widow. In this guise, she attended fashionable affairs, preferably those held in private homes. She memorized the floor plan of the house and identified the valuables. Sometime later, the second-story men in her adoptive family paid a clandestine visit to her hosts and relieved them of some of their wealth.
Now Marianne is attending her first London ton party, her family having previously restricted themselves to Brighton and Bath. She makes the acquaintance of a debutante, Penelope Castlereigh, and meets Penelope's childhood friend, the endearingly clumsy Lord Buckminster. As soon as she can, however, she slips away to wander around the house, searching for the library. The safe, she knows, can usually found there.
Instead of a library, this particular house has a smoking room that strikes Marianne as the likely location for a safe. She prowls about the room, looking behind the pictures, until she does indeed find the safe. As she examines its lock, she is interrupted by Justin, Marquess of Lambeth.
Justin noticed Marianne's vivid good looks earlier, then observed her when she left the ballroom. Her subsequent actions had been distinctly odd, and now he is sure he has caught a thief. At 31, Lord Lambeth is easily bored, and he finds this red-haired thief anything but boring. When Marianne manages to slip away from him, he decides to track her down rather than to inform the authorities about her activities. He doesn't know where she lives, but he is determined to find her anyway.
In fact, half of London seems to be trying to track Marianne down, whether or not they know it is Marianne they are after. Her newfound friend, Penelope Castlereigh, is looking for her. Lord Buckminster, head over heels in love, wants to find her to invite her to his country house. Her grandmother is looking for the lost Marie Anne. Most sinisterly, her kidnapper is also hunting for Marie Anne.
The stage is set for one of the staples of the Regency period romance -- the house party with its diverse assortment of guests -- and Camp handles it deftly. Will Lord Buckminster realize that Penelope loves him? Will Justin seduce Marianne? Will the woman who plans to marry Justin expose Marianne's working class past? The sub-plots involving the secret of Marianne's identity and her kidnapper's efforts to remove her once more extend the book, but the house party is its heart and soul.
At the center of any romance is…the romance. Marianne and Justin's unfolds plausibly. Camp convinced me of the changes in Justin's feelings for Marianne as he begins to value her more highly and as a potential wife, not a transient mistress. Both Marianne and Justin are attractive, and I found myself rooting for them, as well as for Penelope and the hapless Buckminster.
All in all, Candace Camp's Promise Me Tomorrow provides charming entertainment.
--Nancy J. Silberstein