Always a Lady is the third in a trilogy (following Once a Mistress and Ever a Princess) about the consequences of the codicil to the will of the fifteenth Marquess of Templeston, which charged his son with the care of the late marquessís mistresses and illegitimate offspring. Set in the Victorian era, the story begins when Kit Ramsey and Mariah Shaunessy meet as young children at a castle ruins in Ireland. Mariah is being raised at a convent by nuns following the death of her parents. Kit tells her he will return to marry her.
Kit is the half-brother, adopted son, and heir to the sixteen Marquess of Templeston. He already has a courtesy title from his father, but to his surprise and delight at his majority he becomes the earl of Kilgannon. Together with two friends from his school days, he heads off to Ireland to ďfind his destiny.Ē There he is informed that along with the title he has inherited the guardianship of Mariah Shaunessy. He quickly learns that Mariah is not a child but a stunningly beautiful young woman. Father Francis OíMeara tells him her mother had insisted that Mariah have a London season so she could find a suitable husband.
The Mother Superior of the convent has already accepted the proposal of the local squire for Mariah in marriage. Kit overrules this; the Mother Superior had no authority. Because Mariah is of age and will not enter the order, she must leave the convent. She moves into Kitís castle along with an elderly nun as chaperon.
Mariah has immediately recognized Kit as her childhood swain. She has lived for years on the memory of their promises. She has been the head baker of the convent and, consequently of a good part of the local community, and is unfamiliar with many of the accomplishments of young ladies of society.
Kit and his friends embark on a rush project to prepare Mariah for London where she will be presented to the queen at the same time as his sister. The past, however, will not remain sealed for long.
Awkwardly paced, the story shifts repeatedly from a light, frothy tale about a convent-raised innocent abroad in the world to somber revelations about old passions and long-buried secrets. Thereís a cursory feel to Always a Lady as though the author was in a hurry to complete her trilogy. In the rush to cover the necessary ground, the romance receives sparing attention and lacks development. They pledged themselves to each other as children, and now Mariahís beautiful and Kitís handsome. Thatís all the story offers, but itís insufficient to constitute the elements of a convincing, enduring love.
Most prominent in the story are the numerous convoluted background stories of several of the characters, including deceased ones. Conveniently, the deceased left wills, letters and death bed statements so that no secret goes unrevealed and no loose end untied. The narrative raises awful specters from the past then brushes them off as though they are of no importance. Considering the multitude of deep, dark secrets concerning their origins and the criminal traumas inflicted on each of them at a young age, itís a wonder that Kit and Mariah grew up even somewhat normal. Mariah in particular has some horrible episodes in her past as well as being the survivor of an emotionally sterile upbringing, but sheís astonishingly unaffected. She bears more than a passing resemblance to Maria in The Sound of Music: free-spirited, inventive and so sweet she could cause tooth decay. Even her regular visits to the confessional are cheery.
Most of the story is G-rated then at the very end after Kitís and Mariahís wedding, it takes a sudden turn into PG-13 territory. I found the abrupt change in tone somewhat distasteful and wish this section had been omitted.
Always a Lady is an acceptable book but not more than that. If, however, youíre looking for an easy read that doesnít require much emotional effort and donít mind some serious logic gaps, or youíve have been curious about what happened to the main characters in Once a Mistress, you might want to check it out.