The Harwood family has fallen on hard times. Mr. Harwood has a penchant for hare-brained schemes and investments all of which inevitably fail. Penelope Harwood has taken over the management of the household from her mother who is bedridden with a weak heart, and tends the books while trying to keep the family solvent. It is a hard job, one that has turned her into the Family Nag, a role she doesn't relish but one she sees as being essential.
The Harwood family began their downward spiral after the former Lord Nevin pulled out of a canal investment leaving Mr. Harwood holding the bag. The present Baron Nevin, Christopher Dawes (last seen in Donnelly's A Much Compromised Lady), is well aware that his uncle was a rotter and now that the half-gypsy Baron has come into his rightful title, he is determined to right past wrongs and reclaim the family name the previous Lord Nevin besmirched.
Nevin offers Mr. Harwood a “sure thing” investment, which will help him recoup much of his previous losses, but Mr. Harwood refuses. He has put nebulous investment schemes behind him, determined to do right by his family. His pride and belief in himself are as battered as his finances. I liked that the father isn't just a selfish, foolish cardboard character, oblivious as to how his actions affect his family, as too many spendthrift fathers are. He well knows that he has hurt those he loves; he knows he is responsible for Penelope's hard outlook on life and he is filled with remorse.
Of course, Mr. Harwood still has one more foolish chance up his sleeve: he has bought a stallion with impressive (and aggressive) bloodlines in hopes of establishing a breeding program. This is a “real” investment, not like those “paper” investments. Nevin, still looking for a way to repay the Harwoods and after being refused an offer to buy it, volunteers to tame the horse. Growing up as a gypsy, naturally he's never met a horse he didn't like or couldn't tame.
Nevin is an interesting character. He longs to be a “proper gentleman” and has spent the last year trying to live down the ton's disdain and expectations of bad behavior because of his gypsy blood. He always feels apart from everyone, not fitting into either world as he tries to reconcile his gypsy thoughts and viewpoints with being a lord.
Penelope, despite her large family, is also very lonely. A broken engagement when she was young and being the Family Scold has made her bitter and she is in danger of turning into a shrew. She sees it happening, but seems powerless to prevent it. Watching her let go of that bitterness and suspicion, not only toward Nevin, but her family as well, while Nevin learns to make peace with himself makes for an enjoyable read.
There is a nice and sweet side plot and romance between Nevin's cousin, Brynn and Penelope's sister, Cecilia as they look for the Harwood Treasure, hidden from the Roundheads during the Civil War.
My only real problem with the book was that I felt there were too many rapid point of view changes. We get the thoughts and feelings of no fewer than eight characters, usually in very short snatches. This gave the book a bit of a disjointed feel to me and I lost a sense of the narrator's voice. Thankfully, this wasn't as prevalent in the second half of the book, but was a very noticeable annoyance in the first.
And may I put in a little plug here for more mush – not just in this book, but in all traditional regencies? The convention of ending the book as soon as the hero and heroine admit their love for each other leaves me feeling cheated. I've spent 250 pages with two characters as they discover and fight their feelings for each other. When they finally get together I'd like a little more mush, if you please! A little desert to follow the main course. One of the reasons I read romance is for the mushy bits. Please sir, can I have some more?
But despite the quick wrap up, this is another very readable and enjoyable romance from Shannon Donnelly. Her next book will follow up on a secondary character from this one, and I look forward to that spoiled young man getting his comeuppance!
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, November 17, 2002