His Lady Fair is one of those books one can enjoy on many different levels…a good story with plenty of intrigue, a sensuous and enticing romance and delightful characters.
The story revolves around Nicholas Hawken, Lord Kirkham, rogue extraordinaire on the surface and undercover agent for the Crown in their fight against the French. Nicholas is assigned the task of ferreting out spies in the British aristocracy. One search leads him to the Duke of Sterlyng. Nicholas’ cover is to act the disreputable drunkard and womanizer, which allows him to get close to unsuspecting nobles in hopes of learning their secrets.
During this search, Nicholas literally bumps into Maria Burton. Maria has recently fled her home, a place where she was relegated to servitude as a result of her bastardy. It seems her mother died in childbirth, and her aunt kept her only as a servant. However, twenty-two year old Maria has just overheard a story that she is the daughter of a duke and an heiress. When her aunt refuses to allow her to seek the truth, she runs away. In the course of running, she is confronted by Nicholas and his “friends”, causing her to lose the seat on her horse and injure her foot.
Nicholas, in reality a gentle and sensitive man, brings Maria to his estate and cares for her. He is immediately drawn to her and decides he wants her in his bed. Maria, naďve girl that she is, just wants her foot to heal so she can continue on her journey. In the week she is recuperating however, the power of her attraction to Nicholas overrides her sense and she succumbs to his advances.
She flees in embarrassment and descends upon the duke’s estate where she is immediately embraced as his daughter. Her father is the Duke of Sterlyng. Thus the confrontation is engaged. Nicholas struggles with his duty to the Crown versus his desire for Maria. Maria fights her growing love and attraction versus her father’s wish that she choose a deserving husband…and Nicholas is not that.
The romance between Nicholas and Maria is classic. Their slightest touch sends sparks. The sensuality of their encounters leaps from the pages while their inner struggles to maintain their composure is monumental. When they allow themselves to indulge, it is with passion and feeling.
Meanwhile, the intrigue keeps intruding and bringing the reality of the situation to their focus. This creates conflict. How can Nicholas bring the Duke to justice and still maintain a relationship with Maria? How can Maria still love Nicholas when she discovers his character acting? Once they decide they love, they continue to deny this fact to themselves and each other. This struggle to avoid the pitfalls of their attraction lasted a shade too long, but created only a brief sense of frustration in this reader.
The characters are the essence of this story. Maria is well developed, and realistically goes from maiden to seduced to lover to respectful daughter. It is during a time of her life when she struggles with her role and her feelings. The writer captures her angst, her delight and her sensuous nature all very convincingly.
Nicholas is equally well developed. He is seen as a rogue and degenerate, yet struggles with the imposter he has to play. He delights in allowing his true self to come through when he visits his elderly nursemaid, only to lament that he must hide his true nature from most people. His inner struggle with keeping an eye on the Duke, an eye on Maria and many eyes on the suitors parading in front of her are most fun to watch. His attempts to be a suitor without really being a suitor are quite funny.
The only real lack to the story is the setting. I thought as I was reading that the setting was in the late 1700’s causing me to question several references to knights and armor. Then I realized the entire tale is set in 1429! That explains the armor, but definitely left open many other questions about the time and attitudes of society. If a reader is bothered by this level of detail, it may be more distracting than not.
His Lady Fair is a fun, intriguing romance between an engaging couple that is well worth the time to enjoy.