Beauty of the Mist

The Dreamer

The Enchantress

Flame

 
The Promise by May McGoldrick
(Signet, $ 6.99, R) ISBN 0-451-20449-2
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Many books have excerpts from other sources and authors on the front cover telling the reader how great a book is to entice you to buy it. I rarely pay much attention to these. On the cover of The Promise is one such quote…it says “ A wonderful book…don’t miss it.” In this case, I wholeheartedly agree!

Samuel Wakefield, the Earl of Stanmore, does not believe in love, nor has anything in his life gone well. He entered into a marriage of convenience, only to be sent to war. While away, his father seduced his wife, and a son resulted. The son was born with a deformed hand. Samuel’s father was embarrassed that a child of his could be born like this and was set to destroy the child. The wife, Eleanor, ran away to protect the baby when he was only days old. She and the baby disappeared.

Rebecca Neville was a young orphan raised in a school for girls. Rebecca had no knowledge of either parent, only knowing she was at the school as a result of a trust that was paying for her to be there. With no family, she entered the world as a governess. But a lecherous peer of the realm had other ideas, and she was forced to hit him with a fireplace poker to protect herself. Thinking she murdered him, she ran away and she, too, disappeared, with the help of a lady with a baby.

Now, 10 years later, Rebecca has assumed an alias and is raising a young son, James, who has a deformed hand and is partially deaf. She has made a life for them in Philadelphia in the colonies. All is going well, until one day a lawyer arrives, looking for James. The Earl of Stanmore wants his son back, not to love and cherish, but to fulfill a promise made to his dying father. His honor demands that he fulfill this promise and so he plans to train the boy to be his heir, without any emotional attachment to the child. Rebecca cannot give up her child, so she returns to England to protect James and ensure that he is treated right. Once she learns of Samuel’s plans, she sets out to build a bond between Samel and James.

James does not want to go to a father he does not know, Rebecca is fearful of her past misdeed being discovered and Samuel wants to send the boy to Eton and be done with it. But Rebecca is a force to be reckoned with and she convinces the Earl that James needs time to adjust to his new life. They are sent to his country home, Solgrave.

It is here that the story takes off. The love story between Rebecca and Samuel is complemented by the side stories of the blossoming of James and his relationship with his father, the suspense of the secrets of the past, the development of James’ friendship with a slave from the bordering estate and the horrors on that estate at the hands of a sadistic owner.

As I look at this book in trying to describe it, there are so many interwoven and complex features that make this story such a rich feast. The characters are multi-dimensional - from the two main characters to the servants in the house and the slaves in the field. Rebecca thinks through her problems, and actually talks to her friends and Samuel without rash actions. Samuel is a complex man, and changes his attitude when things are presented that gives him a reason to rethink his feelings. His friends, Nicholas and Oliver, are two men who I hope get their own love stories soon.

James is a ten-year-old that has been forced to deal with things beyond his age, yet his reactions are still those of a child. When he realizes that if he likes his new home, his mother will leave, he decides to hide the fact that he likes it. When he thinks Rebecca may leave anyway, he runs away. Yet, when he has a chance to get a pony, he responds like any little boy whose biggest wish has come true.

I found myself savoring the scenes and descriptions of the countryside and house. They were vivid without being overly intrusive. I hated to read too fast, since I knew the book would be finished, yet I wanted to read quickly to find out how things would be resolved. That is a mark of an excellent book to me.

I would like to add this caution, however. The scenes depicting the conditions of slavery are unsettling. Not all readers may appreciate this candid look at a terrible slave owner and his actions, including spousal abuse. The sexual scenes are explicit. This may not be for everyone.

The Promise is a true feast for the senses - a hot romance, strongly developed characters, and a story that keeps you turning the pages!

--Shirley Lyons


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