In the Arms of an Heiress
By Maggie Robinson
Publisher: Berkley Sensation
Release Date: July 2, 2013
When heiress Louisa Stratton gained control of her fortune, she left Rosemont, her palatial estate in England, where her aunt had maintained rigid control over her for more than two decades. For the past year, she has been motoring across the continent, accompanied only by her outspoken maid, Kathleen Carmichael. Louisa has delighted in her freedom and her adventures. When her aunt’s cautionary letters bemoaning the dangers threatening two young women alone became too burdensome, Louisa invented a husband, Maximillian Norwich, whom she met at the Louvre and married after a whirlwind courtship.
But now letters from her cousin Hugh and her aunt’s doctor warning Louisa that her aunt is seriously ill have been added to her aunt’s demands that Louisa return home and introduce Maximillian to her family have increased the pressure on Louisa to curtail her European adventures. Problems with her bank also require her presence in England. But going home leaves Louisa with the problem of Max. She briefly considers killing him off, but Kathleen reminds her of the difficulties his death would present. The idea of a mourning period has no appeal for Louisa, and so she decides to hire a husband, or at least a man to play the role of Max, from the Evensong Agency, whose motto was “Performing the Impossible Before Breakfast Since 1888.”
Charles Cooper, a veteran of the second Boer War, has resigned his captaincy and set out to drink himself into oblivion. Self-destruction is the only way he knows to eradicate his memories of war and its atrocities. The son of a factory foreman, Charles was sent to Harrow at twelve by George Alexander, the owner of the pottery works that employed Charles’s father, where Charles and his brothers went to work as soon as they were old enough to be hired. Alexander recognized Charles’s intelligence and gave him a gentleman’s education that would allow him to live a better life, but education also separated Charles from his family by a distance that no trip home could bridge. Charles is not close to his two older brothers, who still work in Alexander’s factory, nor to their families, but he is determined to leave them money and his journals about his war experiences, hoping they will understand him then.
Charles thinks Mrs. Evensong is crazy when she offers him a job. He does his best to alienate her with his crudeness, but Mary Evensong is made of sterner stuff than he realizes. When he learns the munificent sum Louisa Stratton is willing to pay for him to become Maximillian Norwich for thirty days, he seizes the offer as a way to provide for his brothers and their families. He concludes that Louisa is a “silly society bitch” with questionable sanity and too much money, but he can endure her for the handsome fee she’s offering.
From his first sight of Louisa, Charles begins to discover she is completely outside his experience: “She was a golden girl from tip to toe. Miss Louisa Stratton looked like money, honey, and double cream.” Charles is outside Louisa’s experience as well. The fictional Maximillian may have been ideal, “entirely considerate of [her] feelings, always at [her] elbow ready to be helpful. . . . [to] discuss art and history and philosophy and [take her] opinions as seriously as his own,” but he was not half so tempting as the rough-edged Charles. Between the intimacy of sharing a suite and the visions Charles and Louisa keep having of one another’s nude bodies, the temptation to enjoy the benefits of true matrimony within their fake bonds are growing, and yielding to temptation is so pleasurable—especially when this unlikely pair find their hearts are making choices their heads having caught up with. But Louisa and Charles are not the only ones with secrets, and some secrets prove dangerous. Someone at Rosemont is determined to get rid of Maximillian. If he can’t be bought off, poison or a bullet may work. Louisa and Charles must learn to trust one another wholly if they want to survive to see their game of pretense become the real thing.
In the Arms of the Heiress is the first book in Robinson’s turn-of-the-century Ladies Unlaced series, and it is an absolute delight. Funny, poignant, and sexy, it has all the charm of a classic screwball comedy with more substance. Charles is a tortured hero, a type that Robinson creates with great skill, but the specifics of his working-class history, the horrific details of his experience in South Africa, and his unique combination of angst and humor make him distinctly individual. Louisa is a darling. I fell for her on the second page when she imagines Maximillian’s death and thinks “If there had really been a Maximillian, she was sure she’d show all the proper feeling for losing the love of her life. She probably wouldn’t rise from her lonely bed for weeks, perhaps months. Years. She’d rival the late queen in her longing for Albert, only she’d be far more attractively dressed.”
The secondary characters add dimension, particularly Kathleen, the loyal, tart-tongued maid who has her own love interest. Louisa’s family left me indignant on her behalf, and the mystery of the attacks on Charles and Louisa kept me guessing until very near the multi-threaded end. The mystery of the supremely confident and competent Mary Evensong remains unresolved. I have speculated wildly about the implications of her name. I’m hoping the second book in the series, In the Heart of the Highlander (October 1, 2013) will answer all my questions. It features Mary and a Highlander hero. I’ve already starred it as a do-not-miss-this book on my calendar.
If you like historical romance that leaves you with a laugh and a sigh and a decided impatience for the next book in the series, I highly recommend In the Arms of the Heiress.
What's the last book you read that you loved so much it left you impatient for the next book in the series?