The Lady Most Willing...
by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway; historical (2013)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-210738-1

The Lady Most Willing... is, like the one that came before it, is "a novel in three parts". It's like an anthology, in other words, only without the segregation, although the publisher helpfully indicates which part is written by which author. This one is in many ways similar to the previous collaboration of these three authors, so chances are, you'd like this one (or not) as much as you did the last one.

This time around, we have Laird Taran Ferguson. A widower with no sons, he is aware that everything he has will go to his two nephews - Byron Wotton, the Earl of Oakley, and Robert "Robin" Parles. He's not upset with this. He is upset, however, by the fact that these two men are not getting married anytime soon to good moneyed women of quality, ideally of good Scottish pedigree. Who is going to continue the mighty legacy of the Fergusons? Something has to be done.

So one fine evening, he and his middle-aged coots crash a neighbor's party to kidnap three heiresses - it's always good to have a back-up, after all - for his nephews. Well, the haul is pretty good - the very pretty and well-dowered Marilla Chisolm, her more quiet "I'm an Original who would rather do my own thing, just like the ten million romance heroines out there" older sister Fiona, and the English heiress Cecily Tarleton. Oops, they also accidentally brought along Catriona Burns, a squire's daughter, and John, the Duke of Bretton. John was sleeping off some wine in his carriage when Taran's men commandeered it to bring the women back to Finovair Castle.

So here we have a motley crew of people, trapped together as a snowstorm blocks off the roads for a few days, and love is in the air. Yes, all three stories feature romance taking place within a few days, so it's like following everything in fast forward.

Julia Quinn starts the show with Catriona and John falling in love. This one is a cute, if rather typical, story by this author, and if you have read a few books by Ms Quinn, you may experience a sense of déjà vu here as it's that guy and that girl doing that thing again. She's considered plain, but the hero takes one close look and realizes that she radiates inner beauty right out of every pore of her skin, they banter a bit, act awkward and cute a bit around each other, and oh, it's true love. There's nothing wrong with this, except that the accelerated pace of the story means that things can get contrived here.

Eloisa James takes over after Julia Quinn's work is done, and she pairs Fiona with Byron. Fiona is ruined thanks to her fiancé falling to his death while trying to sneak into her room and do bad things to her, and now she is her spoiled sister's chaperone when all she wants to do is to claim that she wants to do her own thing now that she is in control of her destiny. It's the same old story. He's the stiff-lipped proper guy who wants a lady with spotless reputation to marry... later... since he's still blue over his ex-fiancée doing the naughty tango with her dance tutor. But Fiona, like Catriona, radiates inner beauty from every pore in her skin, so Byron is besotted. But she has trust issues and self-esteem issues, and then there is that thing about him wanting a wife of spotless reputation, so oh, everything is just peachy.

Ms James tries to give her story a bit more emotional depth than the other two stories here, although this only results in a story of two stereotypical characters doing the same old song and dance about the joys of marrying a misunderstood virtuous woman. The whole routine is quite played out, but the author makes things worse by just dragging out these two twits' push-and-pull, round-and-round pony show. The hero is charming now and then, but he and Fiona as well as their whole routine are just too familiar for their own good. By the time these two decide to hook up permanently, I'm actually relieved because finally, the tedium of the tropes is at an end.

Connie Brockway ends the show by pairing up Cecily and Robin. This one is another familiar song and dance. Cecily has always been infatuated with Robin and if he says jump, she'd squeal how high and jump an extra few feet for good measure. The thing is, he just doesn't feel that he's worthy of her affections, so here we go once again. This one is shorter than the previous story, so the whole thing doesn't feel as interminable, but it's still a familiar story. And since the whole thing hurtles to a happy ending in rapid speed due to the fact that everyone has to get tied down within a few days, the story ends up feeling most contrived.

Then again, all three stories feel contrived due to the whole premise and the length constraints of this whole collaborative effort. The Lady Most Willing... ends up coming off more like a watered down combined effort that remind me of better - and longer - efforts by these authors in the past. Nothing here stands out as memorable in any way, with pretty much everything here being a laundry list of tired old clichés tossed into the mix, so this is one of those books that one can live with or without. Read it or not, it doesn't matter, because, chances are, it'd be completely forgotten within a week.

Rating: 61

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