My Lady Governess

The Wagered Wife

Willed to Wed

The Willful Miss Winthrop

The Trouble with Harriet
by Wilma Counts
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7941-1
The trouble with Harriet is that she’s got a life other than gowns, parties, and eligible suitors. Because Harriet’s fervor for political and social reform consumes her passions, there’s not much left for the romance with the titled hero, who’s a perfectly decent guy but a trifle on the bland side. I have fears that married life in the happily-ever-after is going to seem dull in contrast to her former career.

Harriet Glasser, the daughter of Lord Sefton, falls in love with Marcus Jeffries, the second son of the Earl of Wyndham, when the older lad rescues her kitten from a tree. When she’s fourteen, her daydreams of romantic love are dashed when she learns he regards her as a schoolroom miss. She resolves to forget him.

Fourteen years later, Marcus (the brother of the hero in the author’s The Wagered Wife) has succeeded to the title after his father’s and his older brother’s deaths. He learns that he has also succeeded to the guardianship of Annabelle Richardson when she is dismissed from school and brought to his London townhouse. Annabelle’s parents had died several years previously naming the Earl of Wyndham and Mr. Raymond Knightly as guardians. Mr. Knightly has also died, and his widow has inherited all his interests and responsibilities.

Marcus is certain that no flighty middle-aged widow is capable of managing the affairs of the young heiress, and he is determined that she will sign over all legal obligations to him. Mrs. Knightly, however, is neither flighty nor middle-aged. Following a marriage of convenience to an older man (necessitated by the improper advances of the slimy cousin who succeeded to her father’s title after his death) who encouraged her education and training, the former Harriet Glasser is highly capable and informed. Although she was not aware of her joint guardianship of Annabelle, she refuses to abdicate her responsibilities to the strong-willed miss.

Annabelle is adamant that she will not return to school where she was frequently in trouble for disregarding the rules. She is too old for a governess, but Harriet is equally firm that her education continue and that she be exposed to subjects that many would consider inappropriate for a young miss. The eventual solution is that Harriet will undertake Annabelle’s instruction. She will move into Marcus’s house where his aunt will be chaperon to ensure the proprieties.

Harriet has secretly embarked on a career as an essayist. Using the pseudonym the Gadfly, she writes impassioned essays criticizing the government’s neglect and inaction on a variety of social and political topics. She intends to continue her writing in spite of her move to Marcus’s house. The Gadfly’s articles are the source of lively debate in the household.

Marcus is enjoying the comfortable family life he has arranged and starts to look at Harriet with a new warmth. Harriet’s affections are also engaged, but she wonders if the beautiful Lady Teasler, his former mistress, holds his interest. But a matter of real danger threatens. Certain staid members of the government are becoming increasingly irate at the Gadfly’s censure and are talking possible charges of sedition.

Romance takes a back seat in The Trouble with Harriet to the description of economic and social ills during the Regency period. Excerpts from the Gadfly’s articles, discussions among characters, and a subplot in the story all serve to place the wide-spread social woes in a prominent position. The theme also serves to reveal that Harriet is a woman of intellect, talent, and strong convictions. I don’t doubt that conditions were as dire as the author portrays them, but they decidedly overwhelm the low-key romance. Marcus is a decent enough guy, but he doesn’t seem to have the necessary fervor to match Harriet.

Harriet and Marcus exchange a few kisses and dance a couple of waltzes together, but their relationship is less romantic than practical - they make plans for Annabelle’s education, arrange social functions, entertain relatives. It may be the stuff of day-to-day life, but it doesn’t sizzle with sexual tension. It’s obvious that Harriet and Marcus are going to end up together because they’re comfortable together not because they’re overcome by powerful passions.

There’s also a subplot involving Harriet’s slimy cousin that’s mostly superfluous. It does, however, demonstrate that Annabelle’s a pretty resourceful girl. A note about the author indicates that there will be a sequel featuring Annabelle as the heroine. I hope the author gives her the strong hero she deserves.

The Trouble With Harriet lacks that spark that would lead me to recommend it. Readers who are interested in the Regency period and don’t expect the romance to be the story’s dominant focus may want to check it out.

--Lesley Dunlap

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