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Surprising Lord Jack
by Sally MacKenzie
(Zebra Books, $7.99, PG13) ISBN 978-1-4201-2322-7
****
Surprising Lord Jack is a lovely historical romance, perfect for whiling away a weekend.

Miss Frances Hadley has lived a quiet country life, filled with heavy responsibility and little comfort. Her father went away to travel many years ago, her mother passed away, and her brother Frederick moved to London. She's been living at the family home with her bitter Aunt Viola, running the family estate. Frances was somewhat content living that life, until one day at the store she overhears that dear Aunt Viola is conspiring with the local rake, Littleton, to ensnare Frances in a compromising position, ensuring that she'd be shamed into marrying him. Then, Viola and Littleton will split Frances' dowry.

Frances is enraged and careens onto a poorly planned course of action that includes dressing in Frederick's old clothes, pretending to be a boy, going to see Frederick in London and making their man of affairs pay her dowry directly to her. Frances doesn't expect her horse to become lame or the weather to turn bad, but both happen quickly.

Frances ends up at the Crowing Cock Inn, desperate for a bite of food and some rest as she's determined to continue her journey. While the kind proprietors supply both, they put her in a room usually held for the Valentine brothers. The proprietor doesn't expect the Valentines to come by that night as the weather has further worsened and everyone knows that the Duchess of Love, mother of the clan, is holding her Valentine Birthday Ball, hosted specifically to make matches for her unwed sons.

Jack Valentine decides to escape early from the Birthday Ball and the terrifying Miss Wharton, who seems intent on catching his eye. Braving the bad weather, Jack makes his way to the Crowing Cock, only to find that there's a boy in his room. He doesn't mind sharing the room, as all rooms are full.

The next morning, Jack has decided two things: that the boy sharing his room is younger than he claims, sadly unworldly, and a little effeminate. Secondly, that Francis Haddon - the boy's name that he's been given - desperately needs as escort to London as they are heading the same way. Frances tries desperately to think of another way out of this unappealing change of plans, but can't. So, the odd couple start off for London, with a lake of misunderstandings, and deception between them.

Surprising Lord Jack is incredibly charming, written with beautiful flow and compelling the whole way through.

Jack Valentine is attractive, complex, generous, and determined, all of the things a good hero should be. While world-weary, he's not a tortured soul or overly dramatic which I appreciated. Jack's biggest asset is his close and often hilarious family, well addressed within the tale, we get to know them all fairly well.

Frances is arrogant and strong-minded, bordering on shrewish. She's totally committed to her plans of starting her own life on her own terms, she's so used to taking care of everything that she's stunned to find herself starting to rely on Jack at all. The comfort of a strong man starts to seduce her and that's difficult to fight, but she tries. Frances is a prickly woman with a soft center and Sally MacKenzie writes her wonderfully.

While I have stated that this is a beautifully written, seriously charming story, I will say that it's also highly predictable, which is the only reason I haven't given it five hearts.

-- Amy Wroblewsky


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