by Kasey Michaels, historical (1998)
Warner, $6.50, ISBN 0-446-60582-4
Indiscreet has a few jokes and one-liners which feel like a blatant recycle from a much earlier book The Passion Of An Angel, but that isn't a crime, I guess, or Jayne Ann Krentz would be facing a life-sentence by now. Other than than quibble, there is plenty to adore in this book. It's the story of an unusual heroine who waltzes into our prim and proper hero's life and turns it upside down.
I should probably warn readers that despite being set in the Regency era, Indiscreet boasts very little of the moral preachfest that is apparently necessary in these stories nowadays. While there is a love-thy-family message in the story, there is no witless moments of martyrhood or extreme sacrifices passed off as valor and piety on the heroine's part. The heroine tells white lies very well when she has to and she wants to marry a rich old husband who would preferably croak off soon to leave her free to enjoy life as a wealthy widow.
Sophie Winstead has a very pragmatic outlook in life. Her mother was Constance Winstead, the notorious widow who makes her money from being the mistress of wealthy and powerful men in England. Sophie was raised by Constance and Constance's companion, Desiree. Desiree was also a professional mistress before she decided to retire and take care of lil' Sophie so that she can eat as many cakes and pastries as she wants. Constance fills Sophie's head with impractical romantic ideals and notions while Desiree teaches Sophie that men will use you if you let them - look at the men Constance adored, they always leave in the end and poor Connie would weep. Sophie grows up to be a young lady who's a mix of both women. She tries to be pragmatic, but she's also a romantic at heart.
Bramwell Seaton was a dashing, outgoing guy once upon a time, until his father was killed. Worse, his father was killed in an embarrassing accident - he and his mistress were enjoying their fun and games on a narrow balcony when His Grace's valet pushed open the door and sent those two - still joined at the hip, so to speak, and naked as the day they were born - tumbling to their deaths (it's a long drop). It is bad enough to smuggle one's mistress into a party, but to die after that faux pas is a really enormous no no. Poor Bramwell decides to make up for the shame his estranged father inflicted on his family by becoming the most sober and proper person ever. This determination is only strengthened when his mother later dies from eating bad fish while in the company of her lover.
How is Bram and Sophie related? Ah, Cecil, Bram's father had a mistress with him when he died, remember? And this mistress is Constance Winstead. Sophie is not Cecil's daughter though, don't worry. Anyway, Bram realizes that his father had a written promise made to Constance that Cecil would sponsor Sophie's debut in Society. With Cecil dead, it is up to Bram to honor this agreement. When Sophie breezes into his life with her monkey Giuseppe and that raunchy parrot Ignatius (along with Desiree and Mrs Edith Farraday, Sophie's "guardian"), however, Bram's life is turned topsy-turvy and the poor man doesn't know what hit him.
Sophie is beautiful, like her mother. At the surface, she seems like an eager-to-please lady that would make any man happy. Bram realizes however that Sophie is a hard woman inside: she refuses to love a man because she's seen how men hurt her mother, so she's determined to marry only for children and the money this husband will provide her. And then she'll party, party, party. Bram is horrified. This young lady must be stopped! Alas, he is becoming more and more beguiled by Sophie himself to the point that his prim and proper life (and future wife) seems so lacking in comparison.
I find Bram a delight. This is one guy who is so prim and proper - to him, we are all placed in this world not to be happy, but to be earnest - but he is his father's son in every other way, and when he finally thaws, wow. Sophie is fascinating as a young lady who is so used to being what people expect her to be that she doesn't really know who she is anymore. These two share a common bond in that both spend their lives living up to people's expectations and it is with each other that Bram and Sophie can finally be their real selves. But it's not easy getting to the happily ever after, as Bram and Sophie will put each other through some really fiery breakdowns as well as delicious epiphany moments before they get there.
Along the way, there are some very laugh-out-loud moments as Sophie turns Bram's world upside down by "dazzling" his friends and family members just to show Bram a thing or two. There are many fun characters in this book, such as Bram's kleptomaniac aunt Gwendolyn and Bram's friend the downtrodden Mommy's boy Sir Wallace Merritt. I really like how the author shows some vulnerable side to the dotty Gwendolyn, especially in the scene where she tells Sophie to stay with them always as life is less fun for the lonely Gwendolyn with Sophie not around. Even Isadora, Bram's future wife, is given a dignified treatment. She is proper, but Ms Michaels allows her to be proper without coming off as entirely in the wrong. Isadora gets her own happy ending here with her Mr Right, which is nice indeed.
Ms Michaels manages to convey very well the confusion faced by both Bram and Sophie as they try so hard to escape being their own father or mother. In the end, both of them manage to make peace with the memories of their parents as well as find love with each other. Indiscreet works very well in that the emotions faced by the main characters manage to come off as very real, thus making Sophie and Bram real in the process. The message this book seems to preach in an overwhelming manner - like parents, like children - will be quite depressing if this book isn't so fun.
The only things I don't like is the way the author presents Sophie's coming into Bram's life as an unlikely matchmaking scheme. To say more will be a spoiler, so let me just say that this scheme feels implausible and actually weakens the story. There is also a love scene late in the story that feels tacked on just for the sake of having a love scene.
Indiscreet not just tickles me pink at some many instances, but it also presents a satisfying love story between two very adorable and well-developed characters that are a little different from the usual generic template characters populating the genre. It manages to balance humor with hard-hitting emotional drama, making this a very satisfying Regency-era romantic comedy. If you're tired of whiny fake rakes that blame everyone else for their problems or tediously one-dimensional selfless nitwit women trying to solve everyone's problems ineptly, do give this book a try!
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