by Sabrina Darby, historical (2012)
Avon Impulse, $3.99, ISBN 978-0-06-223072-0
It's not easy to find a story like Sabrina Darby's The Short And Fascinating Tale Of Angelina Whitcombe nowadays, because Angelina Whitcombe makes her living as an actress with opportunities for wealthy men to offer her their "protection". And no, this isn't a story about the reformation of a fallen angel, at least, not in the sense that the heroine has to suffer all kinds of indignities for daring to be what she is. It looks like Sabrina Darby wishes to leave the hair suit romance to other authors, choosing to give me a simple love story instead.
Angelina is currently in an unfortunate predicament. Having been replaced by his most recent protector with a younger woman, the man's new mistress proceeds to start a campaign that sees Angelina out of work with no one to hire her. No matter. When a Mrs Martin advertises for a beautiful woman to seduce her son for a price of £100, Angelina decides to accept the job.
Oh, don't worry, Mrs Martin isn't trying to pull some creepy thing here. Captain HJG Martin had turned into a reclusive man who hides in his castle in the country, working at rebuilding it, sleeping in an environment more appropriate for a farm hand, and generally act in a manner that has his mother concerned. What could coax John - as our hero prefers to be called, and yes, how appropriate it is in this situation, heh - back to his old self, to mingle, marry, and produce babies? Well, she is advised to get a woman to restore John's humor, so to speak, hence her advertisement.
So here we have a heroine who approaches the hero under false pretenses, which makes it a bit hard for the process of falling in love to take place without a guilt trip or two.
The title of this story doesn't lie - it's short. I'm not sure about "fascinating", as its length doesn't allow the characters to have much room for development, and the romance happens in an accelerated pace. Considering the limitations of the short story format, however, this one is still an entertaining read. The main characters are set up to connect in a way that shows me how cozy and right they are for each other, before the sex scenes come in, and the author deftly allows the truth about Angelina to come out while having the two characters behave in a sensible "I'm mad, but... let's talk about this and clear the air" manner. Along the way, Angelina's insecurities and concerns about marrying John feel in character instead of an excuse to whine, and John is actually a pretty sweet wounded beast kind of archetype.
If this one had been longer, who knows, it might have been a home run out of the gates. As it is, The Short And Fascinating Tale Of Angelina Whitcombe is a story I have no regrets reading or purchasing whatsoever.
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