Again the Magic

Devil in Winter

It Happened One Autumn

Lady Sophia's Lover

Married by Morning

Mine Until Midnight

Scandal in Spring

Secrets of a Summer Night

Someone to Watch
Over Me

Stranger in My Arms

Suddenly You

Tempt Me at Twilight

A Wallflower Christmas

When Strangers Marry

Where Dreams Begin

Where's My Hero

Love in the Afternoon
by Lisa Kleypas
(St. Martins, $7.99, PG-13)  ISBN 978-0312605391
Lisa Kleypas brings her series about the Hathaways to a fine conclusion with Love in the Afternoon.  It’s time for quirky Beatrix Hathaway, youngest sister and nature lover, to find her match.

Beatrix loves her life at her family’s estate, especially the animals that she regularly carts home.  Hedgehogs, ferrets, even goats are all part of the menagerie.  As the story opens, Beatrix is perusing a letter sent by Captain Christopher Phelan to her friend, Prudence.  Pru is a flighty, self-absorbed flirt, and she blithely dismisses Christopher’s soul-baring letter as not worth her time.  Beatrix, however, senses the underlying currents.  Christopher knows he will return from his stint as a sharpshooter a changed man, and not for the better.  He is reaching out to Pru as a lifeline; to him, she’s a fine, glorious thing waiting for him when the war is finally over.

Beatrix has little reason to like Christopher. Before he left for the war, he was a smug, arrogant, impossibly handsome man who casually insulted Beatrix when she was supposedly out of hearing. Smarting, Beatrix vowed to hate him. But the loneliness in his letter causes her to impulsively ask Prudence if she, Beatrix, could write back to Christopher, under the guise of Prudence? 

And so a deceptive friendship is born, and over the course of many months, it develops into love.  Finally, unable to bear the thought that Christopher believes she is Prudence, Beatrix stops writing.  By now, Christopher is in love with her, or at least her alter-ego.  When he returns from the war, he is determined to find and marry his beloved Prudence.

Prudence is only too happy to become engaged to a dashing war hero; after all, she’ll be the toast of London on Christopher’s arm.  Christopher can’t understand why she seems so different, or why he is so drawn to the very unusual Beatrix Hathaway.  How these threads are untangled makes for a very satisfying story.

Beatrix is definitely an Original, and if the story had been set in London, it never would have worked.  On the family estate she can roam around dressed in men’s breeches from time to time, and her small horde of creatures is a natural part of the scenery.  The author doesn’t give them too much space or make them overly precious, either.

Beatrix’s clear-eyed understanding of her deception is poignant.  She loves the man she knows Christopher to be, and is possibly the only one who truly understands what he’s going through as he attempts to adjust to civilian life. The events of the battlefield haunt him, and here Kleypas draws things in more detail than simply having Christopher awaken from nightmares in a sweat. It’s effective, one of the best uses of PTSD in a historical novel that I’ve read.

Christopher is less vividly presented than Beatrix, perhaps because more time is spent in her point of view. When the deception comes to light, he’s enraged, yet when Beatrix’s part in it is revealed, his reaction is quite different. While I enjoyed the twist, it seemed like a rather abrupt about-face. For all that, he’s an engaging character, and his dislike of crowds and the city make him the perfect match for Beatrix.

The rest of the Hathaways play supporting roles, and Kleypas is careful not to let them steal the limelight.  I especially enjoyed Leo, hero of Married By Morning. He’s just as cynically funny here as he was in the previous book, and his wife, Catherine, still isn’t letting him intimidate her.

If you’ve enjoyed the previous books, Love in the Afternoon is going to leave you with a big smile of contentment as the quirkiest of the Hathaways finds love with the one man who can truly appreciate her. I’m sorry to see this series end.  Ms. Kleypas, aren’t there some Hathaway cousins lurking about?   

--Cathy Sova

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