Who comes up with these titles? Were I not a dedicated fan of Regency romances and had I not enjoyed Fairchild’s books in the past, I would surely have passed this one by. (The heroine’s simpering expression on the cover wouldn’t have helped, either.) This would have been a shame because I would have missed a most enjoyable love story which has the added benefit of some simply marvelous descriptions of the wild Cumbrian countryside.
It is eight months after Waterloo and Captains Alexander Shelbourne, Oscar Hervey and Valentine Wharton are traveling to the latter’s home in Cumbria on Valentine’s Day. The first person Shelbourne meets is a lovely young woman, Penny Foster, daughter of a local squire. It soon becomes obvious that Penny and Val have a history and a not too pleasant one at that. Val claims that Penny is a woman of easy virtue, a charge that seems verified by the presence in her life of a five year old girl of unknown antecedents.
Shelbourne is “paired” with Penny by the local custom of drawing the names of single men and women on Valentine’s Day. Each is supposed to grant the other’s wish. Shelbourne wants Penny to to show him the lovely Cumbrian countryside; Penny wants him to see the truth behind the rumors that surround her.
This is a tale of the difficulties faced by men who have returned from the war and have to both live with the memories of the horrors they have experienced and to find their place in the world. Shelbourne has more than his share of bad memories. A sharpshooter, he earned his nickname, “Cupid,” not because of his amorous talents but rather because he always shot through the heart. He has had more than enough of killing.
Val has his own demons and his own way of dealing with them. He drinks. When he is in his cups, he behaves boorishly, to say the least. He confronts Penny publicly about the child, Felicity, and when she is forced to admit that he is the father, takes her from the only home and family she has known. Penny is distraught. When Val offers to return
Felicity if Alexander breaks the vow he has made never to fire a gun again and Alexander refuses, it seems as if the blossoming romance between “Cupid” and Penny will wither away.
Readers may find Penny’s actions hard to accept. Yet her own personal history helps explain why she kept the secret of Felicity’s parentage. She knows how harmful scandal can be. Alexander is attracted to Penny from the first She arouses his protective instincts and something more. But there are barriers that the two must overcome to find their happily ever after.
One of the pleasures of this novel is Fairchild’s lively descriptions of the local customs. The reader is transported to a different world, where young people dance to fiddles in barns and marriage celebrations last for days. The setting is far removed from the world of the ton of most Regency romances, but is equally real and fascinating.
Fairchild created characters I cared about. Penny and Alexander are complex people who have to overcome their pasts to find their future. The secondary characters are likewise fully developed. While Val’s behavior is obnoxious, it is also understandable and realistic. War leaves wounds that are sometimes not obvious to the eye.
I read Captain Cupid... in one sitting. Moreover, I kept right on reading even while Mario’s comeback was playing on TV, although I did lift my eyes from the pages whenever I heard the crowd roar. For a Pittsburgh sports fan to admit to this lapse is proof positive that this is a good book.