HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77972-7
Historical Romance, 2016
Similar to Kasey Michaels’s previous book in the The Little Season series, A Reckless Promise is shorter than the usual full-length story, so the publisher has to pad the pages with a “bonus short story”. In this case, it is Jodi Thomas’s Winter’s Camp, a short story that is also a prequel to her Ransom Canyon series. This short story is also available separately on Amazon, but with its $3.15 price, some people may feel that it is probably better bang for the buck to just pay a few more dollars for this book instead.
Let’s start with the star attraction first. Darby Travers, Viscount Nailbourne, is one of the many titled blokes abroad who signed up to shoot French villains during the you-know-what war. Seriously, it’s like a genteel dudebros bonding party over there in the trenches. When the army surgeon patches him up and Darby agrees to do a favor for that guy in return, little does our happy-go-lucky dude realizes once he’s back in England that the piper will come calling.
The surgeon, John Hamilton, passed on shortly after Napoleon got his rear end kicked all the way to Alba, and Darby now finds himself the guardian to John’s daughter Marley. He can’t imagine a worse guardian than himself, and he is not at all happy to be stuck with a ward, but a promise is a promise. Well, maybe he can dump that girl in some school far away and go on living his merry life – that’s still keeping to the promise, right? But not if the girl’s aunt, Mrs Sadie Grace Boxer, has her way. She shows up with Marley at his doorstep, and soon she’s bossing everyone around and making a sensation in the Little Season like nobody’s business. How vexing.
But ah, he also suspects that Sadie is hiding something… possibly something nefarious. What is it, hmm?
The author can always be counted on to write amusing banter and witty observations, and she is not above poking gentle fun at her own characters when they are being silly. A Reckless Promise is one such story, and it is, at first, fun to read. I love how Sadie turns Darby’s world upside down, and his efforts to regain the upper hand is most entertaining. I also think Kasey Michaels is one of those few authors that can foist a manipulative plot device like Marley on me and actually making me go “Aww!” instead of calling for a stake.
Unfortunately, even for its shorter-than-usual length, this story soon becomes to show signs of padding – more padding than a scrawny guy in a Santa Claus costume. After all that build-up to Sadie’s secret (which is quite easy to guess correctly, actually, based on the clues in the story), the author pushes that into the background for meandering, interminable scenes of our main characters doing various rounds and chatting about mundane things. It is only late in the story that the author re-addresses Sadie’s secret and things pick up again. But by then, Sadie looks pretty silly for hogging her secrets for so long – there is really no need to be so secretive when she’s in a marriage of convenience with a well-connected Viscount with powerful friends. As if some random nobodies can get to her when she’s the Viscount’s wife, oh please.
All things considered, this story gives me the impression that the author lost interest in it shortly after writing a few hundred words, and she forced herself to pad things up just to meet the word count and keep the editor happy.
Jodi Thomas’s Winter’s Camp is a far better read, despite being shorter than Kasey Michaels’s story. It has been a while since I read anything by this author, as she and myself drifted apart after she moved on to write contemporary romances. Still, she always has the knack to write sentimental scenes that can actually slip past my cynicism and make me go, “Eek-eek-eek!” and this story has me feeling that maybe I should start reading the author’s books again.
Set in a time when the white folks are dividing lands belonging to native Americans among themselves, James Randall Kirkland has plans for himself now that he has hanged up his soldier gear. He wants to build his ranch into something good, like most people. One day, he comes across a native American slave being ill-treated by her owner. Being a good man, he trades his pocket watch for this lady, Millie. Poor Millie has been kidnapped from her people since she was a kid, and now she is understandably wary of people in general. James only wants to help Millie go back to her people (there is someone out there who is related to her – he will have to track him down for Millie), or at the very least build a life for herself just like he did for himself, but he will soon wonder whether he can let her go.
This is a simple story, and yet, it is so brimming with tenderness and romanticism that I feel like I’m reading a beautiful, complicated story that seems far longer than it actually is. Okay, a cynical part of me feels that there are moments when things are a bit too sentimental, but I am a sucker for the author’s brand of narrative. The tender moments make my heart ache a bit, and Millie’s developing trust in James is bittersweet to follow. And oh, James. He has his baggage, but he’s such a good, kind man that I just adore this guy. And his feelings for Millie are can cut the heart in good, wonderful ways.
At the end of the day, I’ve give Kasey Michaels’s story two oogies and Jodi Thomas’s four oogies. I suppose it is only fair to give A Reckless Promise three oogies then, but if you really want to read this thing, read it for Jodi Thomas’s story.