To be or not to be—in love…
As a ward of the Duchess of Dorset, Harriet can hardly expect more from a match than the ringing endorsement of “from what I’ve heard, the man is financially secure and his teeth are quite regular.” After all, she’s only the lowly daughter of traveling actors, not the actual daughter of the duchess.
William Talbot, Earl of Abingdon is set to marry the duchess’s daughter. After his elder brother’s scandalous death, his family’s reputation is paramount, and he’ll allow nothing to damage it again. But when Harriet disappears to save her father from debtor’s prison, the scandal threatens William and his intended’s family. The simple task of fetching the duchess’s runaway ward turns complicated when Harriet insists on traveling with her father’s acting company. William’s forced to tag along, and finds himself entranced. The stage transforms Harriet into a free-spirited, captivating beauty. But, someone’s been sabotaging the theater company, and instead of facing scandal, William and Harriet discover a threat not only to their growing passion, but to their lives…
If you have followed my reviews for any amount of time then you know I am a big fan of historical fiction and historical fiction done right, well, that just makes me feel all gooey inside. Julia Tagan’s Stages of Desire is historical fiction done right with excellent characters, witty dialogue, just a bit of murder and mayhem and, an HEA that brings everything together as it should be in the end!
Harriet Farley has been ward to the Duchess of Dorset for the majority of her life and while she has never had bragging rights, so to speak, she has also not had a terrible existence. Harriet has always known she would be the second to marry and the best of the marital matches would go to the Duchess’s true daughter, Marianne. Though Harriet hopes for a fine match and a man that will both challenge and love her, she knows the odds of that type of match for a girl of her position is very unlikely. Added to her status as ward is her ignominious status as the daughter of a theater player. To say Harriet will have to be happy with whomever is willing to marry her doesn’t even come close to describing her situation. Resigned to her fate, Harriet is wholly unprepared to run into her long-time friend and her father’s employee, Adam who brings news that Harriet’s father is in trouble and needs her help. Though she hasn’t seen her father in many years, Harriet is a kind spirit and agrees to help the man who abandoned her.
William Talbot, Earl of Abingdon has also resigned himself to his fate. Though he is a trained medical doctor and accomplished researcher he has been forced to all but abandon his profession in order to assume the duties of Earl. One of those duties is marriage and William has every intention of asking Marianne, the Duchess of Dorset’s daughter to be his bride. William isn’t overly fond of Marianne but she is of proper standing and breeding and will serve him well as a society wife. Before William has the chance to properly propose to Marianne, the Duchess asks William the greatest of favors, to retrieve her wayward ward who has gone off to save her father. Ever mindful of his status and reputation, William agrees to the task. Finding Harriet isn’t at all the issue and, in fact finding her is quite easy to do. It’s the talking her into coming home that proves to be the true task and at every turn, William is faced with an intelligent, spirited and, very determined young woman who only wants to help those she cares for.
Though William and Harriet are friendly enough to one another, they both know their circumstances are unique and once Harriet’s task is done and they return to London, their “relationship” will be no more. For days on end, Harriet, William and, the Farley Players – her father’s theatrical troupe – travel further and further from London in an effort to save her father from debtor’s prison. Mishaps (that may not be a strong enough word :)) plague the weary travelers and between the fire and the death of their lead actress, it doesn’t take William and Harriet long to suspect something other than fate is at work. With each mishap, both William and Harriet get drawn deeper into a world they are doing their best to survive and in the course of their adventures they discover they have more than just friendship between them.
The Bottom Line: Stages of Desire is just the right kind of historical fiction for me!! There is just enough mystery and shenanigans to be entertaining, there is an appropriate amount of love story and that story is rather complicated in the best way possible and, there are characters that are both interesting and engaging. Harriet is a woman after my own heart – she is intelligent, determined, kind-hearted and, feisty. Though she doesn’t always make the best choices, Harriet’s intentions are true and she only ever endeavors to help those she cares for. William is a strange character and in the moments when he isn’t worried about his damn reputation and what others will think, he is quite likeable. I very much like the fact that Tagan makes her characters work for their HEA. William and Harriet don’t go through just one big ordeal and then fall into each other’s arms no, they have to endure the one big ordeal, crappy family matters and, some serious head-up-the-ass moments before they are finally allowed to be together. From the beginning I found Stages of Desire to be an engaging read. I highly recommend this read and leave with the hope that Julia Tagan has more of the same in store for future reads.
“From what I’ve heard, the man is financially secure and his teeth are quite regular,” announced Eleanor, Duchess of Dorset.
Harriet Farley, the duchess’s ward, smiled wanly, trying to be as polite as she could under the circumstances. The ballroom brimmed with young women coiffed and adorned to perfection and men whose gazes darted toward the prettiest. Although normally Harriet preferred lingering along the perimeter, tonight she was to be introduced to a promising suitor, handpicked by the duchess herself. For the first time, she’d take part in the ritual of courtship instead of observing from the duchess’s side. Her moment had come.
Then why did she feel like a hare caught in a trap?
The aroma of Pear’s soap and perfume wafted through the crowd. Harriet dabbed her handkerchief under the lace trim of the neckline of her gown but stopped when the duchess furrowed her brow. After six years of living under the same roof, Harriet was keenly attuned to the woman’s slightest sign of irritation.
“I’m sure he’s lovely, Your Grace,” said Harriet. “I trust your judgment when it comes to these matters.”
The duchess shrugged and snapped open her fan, obviously pleased. Harriet’s guardian had a regal profile as would befit the wife of the Duke of Dorset, even though his sudden death three years earlier had taken its toll on the duchess’s loveliness. The family’s recent financial woes had no doubt exacerbated the deep lines etched on her forehead. Harriet could never repay their generosity, taking her in when she was twelve years old, yet now she could do something to help. Or so she hoped.
The duchess scanned the room like a sea captain looking for signs of land. “We’ll wait until Marianne’s betrothal is settled, and you’ll be next.”
“Of course, Your Grace.” Harriet wiggled her toes and winced. The first order of business once she was married would be to buy slippers that fit, not ones intended to make her too-large feet appear dainty.
“You’ve been an agreeable companion to Lady Marianne, and now, if luck has it, you’ll be an agreeable wife to the sixth son of a baron.”
“I’m excited to meet Mr. Hopplehill.” Harriet swayed back slightly, so her heels, not her toes, supported her body weight.
“Act at ease, my girl. You stand so stiffly one would think you’re a marble sculpture.”
She shifted her weight forward, trying to comply.
“Now you’re slumping. Oh, for heaven’s sake. You must have picked up some semblance of proper conduct from Marianne.”
Tears stung her eyes and she took a calming breath. She hadn’t been born into the ton, and evenings like these only reinforced her sense of inadequacy. The other girls were like lap dogs, brushed and pampered and pirouetting for biscuits, while she was more of the loyal hunting dog, happier loping across fields and braying.
The heat must be affecting her thinking.
Julia Tagan lives with her husband and goldendoodle in New York City. A journalist by training, she enjoys weaving actual events and notorious individuals into her historical romances. Her favorite activities include walking her dog in Central Park, scouring farmers’ markets for the perfect tomato, and traveling to foreign cities in search of inspiration.