Signet Eclipse, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-46678-5
Historical Romance, 2014
The Baron Next Door is the first book in a series called Prelude to a Kiss. The series revolve around a trio of Regency-era ladies who end up forming a musical act of sorts together during the Summer Serenade festival in Somerset that year. Hence, “prelude” – get it? Of course, they all find love and romance in the process, because there is nothing like band camp girls to keep guys all coming to their backyards.
You have to bear with the heroine Charity Effington for a bit first, though. She came to Bath to avoid all the gossip and Ton drama that stemmed from her recently broken engagement, and all she wants to do is to play the piano. She has a chance when she ends up in the musical trio that I mentioned earlier, but even before that, she already has some drama with her neighbor Hugh Danby, Baron Cadgwith, over the racket she makes when she practices her music. Naturally, this drives her into a fit of righteousness – the man is so rude! – so she’d play more often, and louder. The thing is, Hugh has a spinal cord injury, and loud noise triggers episodes of painful headaches that cause him to drink. So, he’s literally in pain when Charity does her thing, and she decides to do that louder so… ouch. To be fair to Charity, she has no idea, and Hugh, while understandably not keen on wanting people to know of his condition, could have at least be nicer in telling her to desist. But some readers may find Charity’s petty retaliation a bit too uncomfortable to follow, given that it causes someone to be in genuine agony, so tread carefully. On my part, I have no issues with this, but I do give Charity some side eye, since if someone next door can hear clearly what she is doing, she is probably doing it a little too loudly.
If you manage to make it through the first half or so of the story, though, you may find this story as charming as I did. Charity and Hugh embark on a developing relationship that is an adorable mix of quaintly awkward moments and, on his part, a willingness to go through a world of pain just to be with her. I am a sucker for heroes who would move mountains for the heroine, I admit it, and here, Hugh basically puts his own brain and heart through the grinder just to see and even hear the heroine, and I… I think I like that, a lot.
On Charity’s part, I confess that she’s nowhere as well developed as Hugh – in fact, a lot of time, her behavior often feels inconsistent with the way the author characterizes her – but she does feel a good degree of remorse for the agony she inadvertently puts Hugh through. The author puts her in a very disadvantaged position – Charity’s own issues are petty and trivial compared to Hugh’s, so for a long time, she is being very unfair and even wrong to judge Hugh’s behavior, and often, poor Charity comes off as petty and silly. But that’s the thing: she doesn’t know, and I cut her a lot of slack for that. And, to the author’s credit, I feel that those two do feel right as a couple. Then again, both can be equally petty and childish, heh, and when they want to get all serious and dramatic about love, I think their feelings seem pretty genuine.
At any rate, The Baron Next Door is an unexpectedly delightful story – unexpectedly, because I have no expectations whatsoever when I started reading this book, heh – with some hard-hitting moments of poignancy to complement the more lighthearted moments.