Avon Impulse, $4.99, ISBN 978-0-06-231577-9
Historical Romance, 2014
Winning Miss Wakefield is a pretty impressive read in that it has a plot that is, usually, may be a little too convoluted for a novella-length story, but the author actually acquits herself well here.
Merribeth Wakefield’s reputation is on very shaky grounds when her betrothed of five years jilted her for a vicar’s daughter. When her competition is a vicar’s daughter, Merribeth invites speculations that perhaps her now ex-fiancé may find her virtue to be less sterling compared to that man’s new beloved. Merribeth’s aunt and this woman’s friend drag her to a few balls in town, telling her that she has to show her face or invite more speculation from folks. Her Aunt Sophie’s friend, Lady Eve Sterling, even suggests that Merribeth pay attention to some gentlemen of exciting rakish reputation, perhaps to make her ex jealous and even come back to her. Merribeth, being our typical heroine who refuses to do anything fun (which may explain her ex’s decampment), is hesitant, but when she stumbles upon our hero Bane, the Marquess of Knightsold – yes, Bane is his name, laugh it out of your system – in those “I wander around in house and stumble upon a hot guy in a room” moments, she can’t resist stealing a kiss.
When they meet again, the poor dear has no clue that Bane and Eve are actually in a wager, a wager that is tied to Bane’s plan to avenge himself on his now dead grandfather. Well, it’s like this. Eve is Bane’s aunt. When Bane’s parents married, Bane’s grandfather disowned his son for marrying a gypsy woman. The grandfather can’t stand the idea of his title and properties ending up in Bane’s clutches, however, so he hired someone to kill Bane’s parents. I know, that’s as hilariously over the top as Bane’s name, but I didn’t make this up so don’t look at me. And then the grandfather ruined Bane’s uncle, who is Bane’s guardian, so that the uncle ended up destitute and killed himself. Eve was his uncle’s wife.
So now, Bane’s plan is to discover the identity of his parents’ assassin and make sure that his parents are avenged, and to never procreate so that the title dies with him – his final middle finger to his late grandfather. I wonder whether they won’t dig out some distant cousin or whatever to inherit, but maybe a story with a plot this melodramatic doesn’t need to qualify these things. So, when Merribeth shows up, she’s certainly not in Bane’s plan despite their strong attraction to one another. And there’s also more that meets the eye in the relationship between all these people. Can their romance withstand all the skeletons in their closets?
The plot, surprisingly, ends up being pretty well paced and decently handled. There’s even time for some messages about how revenge may end up costing the players far more than they initially expected to pay. However, the heroine stands out here like an awkward third thumb. She is completely clueless for almost the entire story, so she’s basically reacting without a clue to Bane and Eve. Often she feels more like a puppet than a good match for Bane, and as a result, I’m not sure that I can buy the happily ever after here. They never get the chance to know one another, and the poor dear may spend a long time wondering whether she can trust Bane.
Merribeth isn’t dumb, mind you, it’s just that she’s completely out of the loop and, therefore, spends most of the time either getting confused or flummoxed in situations she is way out of her depths in. It’s too bad, because she surprises me occasionally with some with and self-awareness – a far cry from the humorless wallflower stereotype she started out as. If she has been given an opportunity to be on the hero on equal terms in the playing field, she may be a memorable heroine.
On the whole, Vivienne Lorret’s Winning Miss Wakefield isn’t a bad read. It has promise, and I do like the author’s buoyant narrative style here. It’s just that the plot has the heroine being led around for too long, and the romance never feels as strong to me as a result. Still, a pretty decent effort.