Mistress by Mistake
by Maggie Robinson
(Brava, $14, R) ISBN 978-0-582-5099-5
Charlotte Fallon is the good sister of the Fallen Fallon sisters, repenting every day for a past mistake.  But she can’t withstand the temptation of Sir Michael Bayard when her notorious sister Deb leaves her undefended and unaware of his arrival into her life in Mistress By Mistake.

Charlie let her virtue fall once, when she was a much younger girl, foolish and in love. She now lives in a little cottage – with cats – but otherwise all alone in the village of Little Hyssop.  Charlie gardens, brings the flowers for the local church services, visits with neighbors and feeds her cats all while living as “Mrs. Fallon,” a widow who’s resigned to genteel poverty. 

Suddenly, Charlie’s fallen sister Deborah, a courtesan who lives in London, sends her an urgent letter that says she needs help with an emergency. Charlie rushes to her sister only to find out that Deb has a new protector, Sir Michael Bayard, who she’s yet to entertain. Deborah has decided to rush out and marry Arthur Bannister, her sweet and lovesick beau, leaving Charlie to clean up her mess and placate Bay.

When Bay arrives at the house on Jane Street to finally meet his new mistress, he’s exceptionally pleased to find her just as beautiful as he remembered and so willing that she turns to him even in sleep.  Then, they wake the next morning and he finds out that he’s in bed with a sharp-tongued, highly moral and judgmental woman.  Bay tries to sweet-talk and seduce his way back into Charlie’s sleepy good humor, but she doesn’t trust him, or any man.

Bay wants what he’s paid for, and it seems that Deb ran off with all of Bay’s gifts, including a priceless family heirloom, on her honeymoon with Arthur.  Which leaves Charlie to pay the price. Charlie is desperate to leave Bay’s Jane Street house, not only because she is compelled to stay until the heirloom is returned, but because Bay is the tempting embodiment of everything she’s swore never to succumb to again.

Mistress by Mistake is very well written, with interesting characters and a highly unusual plot once the initial storyline gets laid out.  Bravo to Maggie Robinson for keeping all 286 pages interesting!

Our story starts off with a bang.  Deb’s “emergency” letter, which drags Charlie away from her quiet life, and her subsequent meeting with Bay happen very quickly in the first few chapters.  Charlotte is a real woman; she has a few gray hairs, a prickly temperament, and ideals that she’s trying to live up to, but she’s also desperately lonely.  When Bay enters her life, unlike any man she’s met before – commanding, powerful, handsome, rich -  she’s shocked by him but refuses to cower and stand in awe of him, which I loved.  There was a bit of a French farce in their initial meetings, silly plot twists thrown in to cobble them together, but their reactions to one another were so much fun that it was easy to suspend reality and just enjoy the razor sharp dialogue as they discovered the setup.

Bay is a commanding hero. We get inside his head a bit throughout the story and it becomes easier to understand his convictions and reactions.  He is masterful, in control, yet shaken by Charlie, as she’s not at all what he expected from Deb.  The difference between his early letters to Deb that Charlie reads and how he treats Charlie when he meets her is perfectly written for contrast.  My only real issue that kept me from completely loving this story had to do with Bay.  While I felt like I understood his character, he still managed to seem very distant, unemotional and unreal.  I couldn’t imagine him, and I doubted his chemistry with Charlie at different points.

That said, Mistress By Mistake is a real gem, a great read from start to finish, and highly recommended. 

--Amy Wroblewsky 

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