Coincidence is often interesting. Having taken a break from reviewing, I picked up Stephanie Laurens’ Devil’s Bride and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I decided to read all the Cynster stories and did so. In my next pack of books to review, I discovered The Lady Chosen, the first of her series highlighting members of the Bastion Club. I settled in hoping for a delightful reading experience. What I found was pure formula.
The Bastion Club is composed of seven men, all of whom were not expected to inherit and who thus entered the military. While there, they were tapped to join the War Office’s network of spies, each with their specialty and expertise. Now, they have sold out and returned to England only to discover that through some quirk of fate each one has, in fact, inherited a title. Due to their age and circumstance, all must enter the marriage mart, that place in the ton that terrorizes men, especially these men who have been out of circulation for over 10 years. They band together, purchase a house and name it since it will be “the bastion which will allow us to take charge of our destinies and rule our own hearths.”
Tristan Wemyss, the Earl of Trentham, takes on the task of locating a place and furnishing it before the season gets into full swing. He has unexpectedly inherited from an uncle following the death of his cousin. His uncle, unhappy that Tristan is the one to have the fortune, put an interesting caveat into the will. Tristan can inherit the entailed part of the estates, but this includes no money. To inherit the money, Tristan must marry within one year of the death of the uncle, giving him about 10 months to find a bride. Tristan feels honor bound to meet this requirement in order to support a dozen or so of his elderly aunts and cousins who live in the various houses he inherits and who have no other means of support.
Leonora Carling is in danger. Following on the heels of a persistent agent who wants to buy her home, she is certain someone tried to break in and has even accosted her twice. She spots Tristan next door where he is supervising the renovation of his new purchase, The Bastion Club. She confronts him to determine if he is the one who was after their home. He was not, but he is drawn into her story. Chivalry aside, he is wildly attracted to Leonora. He suggests he can help, but she rebuffs him. Only when the mysterious burglar decides to use Tristan’s home as a way of tunneling through the basement to get into Leonora’s does she condescend to accepting his help.
They are thrown together and work to find the person behind the threat, thus giving them time to fall in love. Lust is a definite part of the attraction, but Tristan recognizes it as more and is satisfied he has found his bride without really looking. Leonora is less than happy with that assumption, as she is twenty-six and determined to be a spinster. (Sound familiar, Cynster fans?)
Leonora is an intelligent, savvy woman who rules her household. She inherited her home from an uncle whose life was devoted to herbs and science. She is sharing the abode with another uncle and her brother, both of whom are scholars devoted to interpreting ancient writings for the Royal Museum. They spend their days in the library with their noses in these books. Leonora runs the place. She is against marriage for a variety of reasons (revealed late in the novel) but the surface reason is that a military man to whom she was engaged jilted her.
Leonora and Tristan are a good pair. They spar and partner and play the game of seduction like two pros. Their romance, while following predictable routes, is charming and entertaining. But there is nothing new. Having read the Cynster series, many of the scenes are familiar. We have the seducing kisses meant to weaken her will. Then Leonora decides she wants to experience the joys of the marriage bed once, so she will have the memories. Tristan, of course, assumes that after the consummation comes the wedding. Not so for Leonora.
Intermeshed with all this romance is the mystery, which is a convoluted thing that I cannot even begin to explain in a review. Suffice to say, it has to do with the uncle’s work and I will let you discover the secrets. While initially intriguing, Laurens drags this out much too long, almost to the point of tedium.
The Bastion Club is an interesting premise and lends itself to interesting scenarios. The Lady Chosen is nothing new, however and Laurens will need to find some fresh diversions to keep her readers coming back for more.