My Lord Protector

 
A Gentleman of Substance
by Deborah Hale
(Harl. Hist. #488, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29088-8
***
For a substantial part of Deborah Hale’s second novel, I was convinced that I would be recommending it without reservation. However, a somewhat overblown and melodramatic ending changed my mind. Still, there is much to like about A Gentleman of Substance.

Drake Strickland, Viscount Silverthorne is burying his young half brother, Jeremy, who died in the war. Reckless and charming Jeremy had been the one bright spot in Drake’s unhappy life. Losing his mother at birth and abandoned in the country by his father, he had been raised by an uncaring and brutal tutor. Jeremy had brought a modicum of joy and warmth and now that spark was gone. Although Drake had succeeded in repairing the family fortune, he could now see all his work going for naught as his unworthy cousin has become his heir and Drake cannot imagine that he himself will ever marry.

When Drake visits Jeremy’s grave the night of the funeral, he discovers Lucy Rushton, the vicar’s daughter weeping over the tomb. In a moment of insight, he realizes that she is pregnant with his brother’s child. Ever responsible, he offers her marriage. This will solve his problem of begetting an heir and will save Lucy from bearing a bastard.

Lucy had loved Jeremy from afar for years and, when he had promised to marry her, she had willingly succumbed to his practiced seduction. Now she must wed his stark and cold brother. The marriage takes place immediately (The author should check the rules about special licenses) and she moves into Silverthorne.

Adjusting to her new status and to her new husband is no easy task. It is made even more difficult by the interference of Lady Phyllipa, widow of another of Drake’s cousins and co-conspirator with the unpleasant heir in an effort to ruin the marriage and preserve their expectations.

Thus, we have a nice marriage of convenience story combined with the gradual warming of a frozen heart. Lucy begins to perceive the solid worth behind her husband’s cold exterior. Drake truly cares for his people although he has great difficulty verbalizing his feelings. Once Cousin Phyllipa’s meddling ceases, Drake comes to see how good and caring his wife truly is.

They are well on their way to discovering love when a dreaded “big misunderstanding” and a slimy villain employed by Drake’s nefarious cousins intervene.

Hale does a good job describing the mounting sexual tension that comes to characterize Drake’s and Lucy’s relationship. She likewise portrays the understandable doubts and uncertainties that plague two people who began their marriage so pragmatically as their feelings for one another begin to change. Drake cannot imagine that anyone, let alone someone as lovely and caring as Lucy, could love him. Lucy has to come to terms with the nature of her feelings for Jeremy and the very different feelings she develops for his brother. I only wish Hale had left them to work out their problems together rather than employing the plot device she used.

Yet, despite my problems with the end, A Gentleman of Substance shows much of the same promise as Hale’s first book, My Lord Protector. She should have a long and rewarding career as a author of historical romance.

--Jean Mason


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