Monday, April 9, 2012

Not Quite a Lady by Loretta Chase

Book Description:
Darius Carsington is a spectacularly handsome rake with a rare intelligence and no heart, a man who divides his time between bedding loose-moraled women and writing scholarly papers. He finds society's “perfect darlings”....exceedingly boring. But there’s something intriguing, and not quite perfect, about faultless Lady Charlotte Hayward. He senses a crack under her polished surface, and finding it is a temptation he can’t resist.

Lady Charlotte is so beautiful, charming, and gracious that no one has noticed what an expert she is at Not Getting Married. Early on, she learned a painful lesson about trust....and temptation. In the years since, she’s devoted her life to all she ought to be-and she’s not about to let a man like Carsington entice her to do everything she shouldn’t.

But the laws of attraction can easily overpower the rules of manners and morals, and sometimes even the best-behaved girl has to follow her instincts, even if it means risking it all.

I really liked this book, despite the sad and poignant nature of the plotline. Loretta Chase is one of my favorite romance authors and this was a rough story line to handle, yet she does it well with just the right amount of sensitivity without it becoming too maudlin.  Not Quite a Lady addresses a serious issue, the strict standards put on women during this period when virginity was considered their single most important asset.  Lady Charlotte Hayward is a fallen woman - though no one knows it.  Ruined ten years earlier at the age of sixteen by a rakish soldier who died shortly after, she finds herself pregnant.  She must give the baby up, keeping the entire matter a secret to avoid scandal.  To make up for her past indiscretion, she has become a paragon, the perfect lady, but one who has resigned herself to the fact that she will never marry, for how could she ever explain the fact she is not a virgin on her wedding night? 

Over the past ten years, Charlotte has perfected the art of avoiding marriage, without making it look deliberate.  Although she has a sizable dowry and is beautiful as well, she has managed to make herself boring and unappealing to every suitor that has come her way.  But the time has come when she's going to have to marry.  Her father insists she marry and is not taking no for an answer.

Now, about this same time, Darius Carsington moves into the neighborhood to take over a crumbling estate his father has given him.  Darius, a younger son, must prove to his father that he is capable of turning a profit on the neglected farm and buildings - a near impossible feat.  He and Charlotte cross paths, literally tripping over each other, and he immediately is struck by something about her.  He mistakes her for a matron or widow at first, almost as if he can tell she is not a virgin?  Yet, once he finds out she is the unmarried daughter of his neighbor he puts the notion aside, yet something still keeps nagging at him.  Charlotte is drawn to Darius, although she can't stand him at first.  He is obnoxious to her, yet she can't stop the beating and fluttering of her heart when he is nearby.  It's obvious what's going on between them.  Yet, due to her past she will not consider him as a suitor - or anyone else for that matter.  Darius, who is a believer in logic, cannot see the logic in her behavior and he begins to hunt her down and get to the bottom of what's bothering her.  Of course, this only throws them together more and more as she and her stepmother help him redecorate his estate.

In addition to having Darius sniffing around, the story takes a nod from Charles Dickens.  A blond headed ten year old boy is an apprentice that is working on the house.  As the story develops we realize he is Charlotte's long lost son whom she gave away when he was born.  Pip, as he is known as, is an orphan who was put in a work house after his adoptive parents died.  Shades of Oliver Twist.  Luckily, Darius takes an interest in him and the plot line becomes more poignant when Charlotte realizes who he is.  My heart went out to her and her predicament.  Acknowledge him as her own and face scandal and ostracism all her life, or try to forget him?  How can any mother make this decision?  Charlotte has some hard truths to reveal to everyone - her father, whom she loves dearly, Darius, who she has come to love - and young Pip as well.  What will he do when he realizes the beautiful sad lady is his real mother?  What will the world think?  What will Darius think?

Overall, I believe Chase handled Charlotte's dilemma well with all it's various repercussions, though it was a tad sugar coated. She managed to cover the unfairness and double standards towards women back in the day and turned it around by adding a bit of humor and romance with a happy and satisfying outcome.  I did have some issues with the way Darius pursued Charlotte so relentlessly at first, intent on seduction, but he won me over in the end with his total acceptance of Charlotte's situation and how he came to her rescue - her knight in shining armor.  I found I was sympathetic towards everyone involved in this story.  I particularly liked Charlotte's father and stepmother.  

This wasn't my favorite of the series, but it was a nice outcome for Darius who never quite felt he had the respect or good opinion he deserved from his father.  I really loved the way things turned out for him and especially the moment when he learns of his father's approval.   I'm really enjoying reading about the many depths and layers within the Carsington family and am now eager to read the final book in the series.


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