It is not easy to create a convincing scenario for a Regency historical that has a nobleman marrying a commoner. It is even more difficult to provide a convincing set of circumstances that would lead to an earl marrying a woman raised in a brothel to be a concubine. Cathy Maxwell comes pretty darn close to achieving these difficult feats in her new novel, When Dreams Come True, although she does depend a bit on magic to bring her hero and heroine together.
The story succeeds because neither the hero, Pierce Kirrier, Earl of Penhallow, nor Eden, the lovely woman he rescues from the sea, are typical of their kind. Pierce has grown up along the stark Cornish coast, ignored by both his father and his mother and "raised" by the staff and villagers. He is a most unusual earl, who has restored the family fortunes and who has no fondness at all for society or propriety.
Eden is the protegee of the mysterious Madame Indrani, who runs a stylish brothel but whose roots are in the east. Madame saved Eden from dire and awful poverty. She recognized the girl's beauty, ability, talents, and determination and trained her to be the highest kind of courtesan/concubine.
The story begins as the villagers of Hobbles Moor gather in a coastal cover to listen to the wise woman, the Widow Haskell, create a love charm that will bring their beloved earl exactly the right kind of wife. They can't see him marrying any of the local eligibles and they certainly don't want him hieing off to London to find a mate. And so, they ask the sea to bring "Lord Pierce" a proper bride.
Meanwhile in London, Eden's fate has been sealed. Madame Indrani had always intended the girl to be sent to the harem of her onetime master, the prince of Kurdufan. Now that the wars are over, the transaction can be completed. For the enormous sum of £25,000, the prince has purchased the young woman. Eden seems resigned to her fate, but her friend Mary (who lives in the next house and who has come to know Eden because the gardens adjoin) responds with horror at the idea that an Englishwoman can be sold in 1815. Mary forces Eden to challenge the assumptions she has always accepted about her worth and fate.
When a storm in the Channel offers Eden a chance to escape from the ship that is carrying her away, she decides to take the risk. And that escape is what leads her to the cove where Pierce rescues her.
Pierce feels an inexplicable attraction to the lovely woman who claims not to know who she is. The villagers and staff are, of course, convinced that "Miss Eden" is the bride sent to their lord by the sea. And Eden herself finds a sense of peace and beauty at Penhallow and a sense of belonging. She is also mightily attracted to Pierce, but she knows her past precludes her from any role in his life. Yet she cannot bear to leave Penhallow or the earl.
How these two come together and how they preserve their love in the face of Eden's past is the heart of When Dreams Come True. I often don't like stories that turn on one character's keeping secrets from another. But in this case, the secret keeping seems perfectly understandable. How does one tell one's husband that, even though you were a virgin on your wedding night, you were raised in a brothel and trained in the arts of love from childhood? And how does one react upon discovering your bride's unsavory past? Maxwell deals with this problem with considerable skill.
If the denouement of When Dreams Come True seems overly sanguine about the ability of Pierce and Eden to overcome their problems, well, after all, this is a romance. And with such attractive characters (Pierce is a yummy hero) and such a cleverly plotted story, well, I was willing to suspend disbelief.
All in all, I found Cathy Maxwell's latest an engaging summer read which should appeal to those who like to believe that dreams really do come true.