The Autumn Bride
By Anne Gracie
Release Date: February 5, 2013
Max Davenham is still a schoolboy when his uncle is killed in a riding accident, leaving the eighteen-year-old Max the new baron. He has yet to adjust to becoming Lord Davenham when he learns that the uncle he thought was wealthy has not only gone through the family fortune, including his wife’s jointure and jewels, but has also left enormous debts. Despite his youth, Max accepts the responsibility that has been thrust upon him. He will do what he must to protect his aunt and save his ancestral home. Nine years later, a year earlier that the deal he struck with a wealthy merchant called for, Max has paid his original debt. The trading company in which he is a partner has bases all over East Asia, and Max, Lord Davenham, has succeeded beyond his expectations. When a letter from an old friend of his aunt’s awakens concern, he decides that it is time he returned to London.
Abigail Chantry, a governess who finds delight in her young charges and in reading used books in a London bookshop on her half-days off, thinks her younger sister Jane has just accepted a new position as companion to a vicar’s mother in Hereford. But when a battered maidservant brings the news that Jane, a beauty not yet eighteen, is in a “bad place,” Abby finds that Jane has escaped from a brothel. When Abby brings Jane, another young woman who also escaped the brothel, and the battered maid to her room, she loses her job. Abby’s slim savings are all that stand between the four women and life on the streets, but the four pledge to become a family and face their challenges together. When Jane falls ill and there’s not enough money to secure medical help, Abby turns thief.
She chooses a house she believes to be empty and climbs in through a window, hoping to find some small object that can be pawned for enough to buy medicine for Jane. Instead she finds Lady Beatrice Davenham, confined to her bed, left in filth and near starvation by servants who are robbing her and keeping her isolated from the friends who might help her. Abby not only leaves without stealing anything, she is so troubled by Lady Beatrice’s situation that she returns, bringing soup with her. When Lady Beatrice hears Abby’s story, she invites Abby and her “sisters” to live with her. Only when she is persuaded that she can indeed help Lady Beatrice does Abby agree. She takes over management of the household and dismisses the crooked servants. She and her sisters, who have assumed the surname Chance, work to see that Lady Beatrice’s physical and mental health improve. Life takes a decided turn for the better for all concerned, and a genuine affection develops between Lady Beatrice and the Chance sisters.
When Max hears from the man of affairs he’d left in charge of Lady Beatrice’s finances that a strange woman, claiming to be Lady Beatrice’s niece, has taken charge of the household and fired all the servants, he prepares to confront the imposter. Suspicious of her motives at first, Max soon learns that Abby Chance and her sisters have been his aunt’s saviors. Nevertheless, he’s displeased with his aunt’s plants to foist these strangers onto London society as her nieces, but he soon find himself thinking of Abby far too frequently than is good for a man of honor who is betrothed to another woman. Abby finds Max’s lordly manner infuriating, but she soon discovers that there is much more to this “dark Viking” than his arrogant assumption that he knows best. And the more she learns about him, the greater the danger to her heart.
A blend of humor and poignancy marks The Autumn Bride as distinctly the work of Anne Gracie. In this first book in the Chance Sisters series, the author has woven another tale of complex family relationships, delightful secondary characters, and a love great enough to win over all the obstacles life throws in its way. I loved everything about this book—the “sisters” who create a family out of affection and need, the hero as disillusioned boy and as honorable man, and the gallant, all together wonderful Lady Beatrice, who almost steals the book from the lovers.
From page one, I was engaged with this story. When Abby assures the three younger girls that “It doesn’t hurt to dream,” and the four share their dreams of what they want from life, I was in up to my heart. By the time I reached Abby’s meeting with Lady Beatrice, I had fallen in love with all the main characters. I didn’t allow a small thing like the need to sleep keep me from the story. I finished it in the wee hours, knowing that Anne Gracie had created another world that I would want to visit again and again.
Gracie not only entertains with her trademark warmth and wit, she also leads the reader to consider the very definition of family and how the tangled bonds of this relationship enrich and complicate lives. The novel is filled with different kinds of family groupings—the Chance sisters, of course, but also nephew and aunt/substitute mother, father and daughter, and friends as family. As the series continues, I expect this theme to yield new insights. I look forward to them. Gracie has said that the story of Damaris and Freddy is next. Damaris is a mystery I’m eager to learn more about, and Freddy—ah, Freddy! He reminds me a bit of the Honorable Frederick Standen (Cotillion by Georgette Heyer), one of my favorite heroes. I can’t wait for Book 2.
What books have you read that have made you consider the definition of "family"?