Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29837-2
Historical Romance, 2015
Annie Burrows’s A Mistress for Major Bartlett follows Sarah Mallory’s A Lady for Lord Randall, both part of the Brides of Waterloo series. While the plot of this story is pretty self-contained, readers who tackle this one may be initially confused as the author doesn’t do a decent job in laying things out. Fortunately, I’m here to save the day.
The story begins with our heroine Sarah Latymor running off to the war field herself after receiving news that her twin brother Gideon is dead. Since she’s close to Gideon and she didn’t feel any “Oh, my brother’s dead – thank you, psychic hotline!” feelings inside her, she’s not convinced that he’s really dead until she sees that he is. Well, you know how romance heroines are. There is no such thing as a bad idea! And then she’s referring to her brother as “Justin” and Justin is alive! If you haven’t read the previous book, you’d probably be stumped by now. Actually, Sarah has two brothers, and Justin – the living one – is the hero of the previous book, and Mary, the woman that shows up here with little introduction, is the heroine of that book. So, while both plots have nothing to do with one another, there is some minor overlap between this story and the previous one, as the happy endings sort of happen around the same time frame. The author doesn’t bother to fully introduce Justin and Mary to new readers, so there may be confusion at first as to whether the “Justin” and “Gideon” are one and the same or that the author is really bad at plot continuity.
Anyway, Sarah doesn’t find Gideon, but she finds a badly wounded soldier, who turns out to be Tom Bartlett, one of Justin’s disreputable playboy soldiers – that’s a pretty cool name for a band, isn’t it? – a bunch of sequel baits who even have a nickname: Randall’s Rogues. I’m not sure about that nickname, personally, as it conjures up images of fops trying to play at being soldiers. Why not Randall’s Rottweilers? Anyway, as you can probably guess, Tom manages to remain hot and sexy underneath all his wounds, and he isn’t above letting his hands move to where they don’t belong. You know he’s really healed when his fingers end up in her cookie jar. But alas, he doesn’t believe that he can love or be faithful, so after he’s splattered his slobber all over her milk jar and proposed, can she marry him after having given the milk for free, especially when he doesn’t say the L word?
Yes, it’s that tedious old conflict again. The heroine is more than happy to place one heel on Finland and the another on Fiji, all in the name of true love, but heaven forbids that the man proposes to her without saying that L word. She comes up with all kinds of excuses – some of them creepily accurate, such as how it is better to have no child than to raise one in a miserable and unhappy household – but the moment the hero says the L word, all her doubts are forgotten and it’s okay time to everything he wants. It’s quite a shame that he doesn’t drop the L word earlier, she’d probably let him do that backdoor thing two pages later because, you know, true love forever.
Still, the story itself isn’t bad, for such a tired old horse of a tale. The writing is fine, and there is a very nice declaration by Tom to Justin late in the story which shows how Tom is more aware than I give him credit for – he correctly points out that there is a possibility that Sarah’s attraction to him is due to her needing someone to feel affection for after losing her twin brother. Such self awareness and his proclamation of his feelings for her have me thinking that, perhaps, one day, these two would be alright.
The problem here is that Tom is knocked out for about 70 or so pages, and the bulk of the middle parts of the book revolves around Tom molesting the heroine while receiving her dogged TLC. It is only very late in the story that there is some semblance of deeper feelings going on beneath Tom’s randy sick octopus with predictable trust issues shtick, while I’m still not sure whether Sarah is in love as much as she is just trying to avoid dealing with her grief. Her clinging behavior is a red flag when it comes to the state of her mental well-being.
In other words, the author spends more time and space on mundane things and not enough on what really matters at the end of the day – the characters’ feelings for one another. Maybe another 100 pages could have done wonders for A Mistress for Major Bartlett, who knows. As it is, this is a painless read, but the emotions never feel fully developed at the end of the day. It ends up being too lightweight for its own good.