The Marquess of Haverstock is incensed when he learns the money he needed to buy crucial war information for the Foreign Office has been lost at cards to the illegitimate daughter of an English duke and French noblewoman. When the bewitchingly beautiful woman informs him the only way to reclaim the funds is to wed her, he has little choice but to agree.
Shunned by the ton, Anna de Mouchet agrees to a bizarre proposal that has her using her skill at cards to force the marquess – whom she’s been told is a traitor – to marry her. As his wife, she will be free to spy on him and prove her patriotism to England. But once she marries the handsome lord, she’s less sure of her loyalties. Especially when she feels her husband’s silken touch.
The House of Haverstock series is my first experience with the writings of Cheryl Bolen and I firmly believe I started at the right place!
Anna de Mouchet is, according to the gossip, a wealthy whore just like her mother before her. If everyone knew the truth of the matter, Anna’s reputation would be much, much better than it is and she wouldn’t have spent her meager 18 years virtually alone and shunned by society. Though she knows her life will be a disappointment to her dearly departed mother, Anna is content to be alone with her charity work. Content is very different from happy but with her reputation, Anna really has no other option.
When Sir Henry Vinson approaches Anna with a proposition of the gravest nature, she agrees to his scheme. No matter what her heritage says, Anna is a true Englishwoman and no one could ever doubt her loyalty. According to Sir Henry, there is a traitor among his colleagues at the Foreign Office and with Anna’s help they can trap the man and bring justice to the Crown. As a true and loyal patriot, Anna is willing to help in any way she can and so she agrees to trick Charles, the Marquess of Haverstock into marrying her. With some sleight of hand, a lot of liquor and some careful negotiation, Anna quickly finds herself bound to the Marquess and the Marchioness of Haverstock.
Charles Upton, Marquess of Haverstock never saw himself a married man. At 32, he is devoted to his work, his family and, the occasional mistress. Without doubt, Anna de Mouchet manipulated him into marrying her but for what reason, Charles is unsure. What he knows about his wife he can fit into a thimble but he quickly realizes, Anna is far more than she appears to be and damn if he doesn’t want to know more about her. It takes Anna very little time to fit in with his sisters (not so much his mother!) and his best friend, Morgie Morgan but Charles is wary by nature and treads lightly where Anna is concerned. He wants to trust his wife and the more he gets to know her, the more enraptured he is by her.
For Anna’s part, she just can’t figure out how Sir Henry thinks Charles is a spy as his every action speaks to true patriotism. Anna is torn between her mission with Sir Henry and her growing affection for Charles. As the days move forward, Anna’s loyalties become divided and she does everything possible to do the right thing by both her husband and her country. As fate would have it, Anna has unwittingly become involved in a terrible situation that will eventually involve murder, true espionage and kidnapping. Through every horrible moment and event, Charles and Anna are led to believe that the other is a traitor and not to be trusted. Given the circumstances of their marriage, each makes one blunder after the other creating an even greater mess that has national as well as personal implications.
The Bottom Line: I rather enjoyed A Lady by Chance with its historical setting, its interesting characters and, plot that is not all that complicated but intriguing and fun nonetheless. Anna is a pure delight with a heart of gold and only the best of intentions. Unfortunately, Anna gets sucked into a devious man’s plot and no matter how hard she tries to extricate herself from the situation, it only gets worse. At every turn, Anna enlists the help of Morgie and her sister-in-law, Lydia (both incredibly interesting characters!) and between the three, they scheme and plot to salvage a miserable situation. Charles, the Marquess of Haverstock is such a stodgy old man for being only 32 years old. His work is vitally important to him and before Anna, he never thought anything would be more important than his work. He makes mistakes with Anna at every turn but in the end, he proves himself to be a true and loyal husband and no traitor to either his wife or his country.
The plot of A Lady by Chance is not at all hard to follow or overly complicated but it did keep me interested from start to finish. You can see very early on who the true traitor is but it doesn’t really matter. Bolen creates a whole series of obstacles and issues for her characters that keep the plot moving along and gaining speed as the end grows ever nearer. The plot is further enhanced with the help of a large, easily distinguishable and, generally enjoyable cast of characters. In all, A Lady by Chance is a fine regency romance and I am already on to book two, Duchess by Mistake!
The Duke of Aldridge offers for Lady Elizabeth Upton, his best friend’s sister, after a mix-up sends her to his bedchamber just when he emerges from his bath. Her scandalous behavior would shame her dear brother, the Marquess of Haverstock. She agrees to marry her childhood heart-throb, but former loves threaten to destroy their fragile marriage.
Lady Elizabeth Upton is in her early twenties and has already decided love is for the birds and the life of a spinster is the only way to go. As a declared spinster, Elizabeth can move more freely through society with no chaperone, she can continue to live in her family home and, she can devote her considerable time to charitable causes. Elizabeth is quite happy with her decision for the entire 48ish hours that she gets to enjoy her new status.
Philip Ponsby is the 5th Duke of Aldridge and one of England’s most eligible bachelors. In the face of war with France and having seen what Napoleon is capable of, Philip has determined it is time to put an end to his carefree days and return to England. Though he has never shirked his duties, Philip knows it is time to settle down and marry and serve his country in any way possible. With a plan and the connections to make it happen, Philip returns to England intent on easing himself back into society and into his new role as government employee. Unfortunately, for Philip there will be no easing back into English life for within hours of his arrival he inadvertently exposes the Lady Elizabeth Upton to a scandal that can only be remedied through marriage. Well, at least that’s out of the way 🙂
On paper, Philip and Elizabeth are perfect for one another: he’s a duke, she’s the daughter and sister of a Marquess, he’s handsome, available and ready to settle down and, she’s had a crush on him since she was a child. Going into the marriage with eyes wide open, Elizabeth hopes she will fall in love with her duke and Philip hopes he can get through the honeymoon before looking for a respectable mistress as all good Englishmen do. The trouble with Philip’s plan is how damn much he likes his wife and though he isn’t instantly in love with her, he sees what a good person she is and finds it difficult to be separated from her.
Within just a few short weeks of their marriage, Elizabeth is using her newly elevated status as Duchess and one of her husband’s generously donated properties to help war widows and their children. Not only does Elizabeth giver herself wholeheartedly to this endeavor but she brings the Duke’s sisters along for the ride. When she and the girls aren’t at the boarding house, Elizabeth devotes her time to the study of government so that she may better aide her husband in his new position. At every turn, Elizabeth takes steps to endear herself to her husband but every other step seems to cause problems. Elizabeth is often riding a roller coaster of emotions as she, on the one hand receives much praise and adoration from Philip and, on the other hand is completely ignored and neglected by him. Elizabeth loves the moments of praise and adoration but is completely confused by the other moments. Not wanting to seem the nagging or shrew-like wife, Elizabeth hides her concerns and allows Philip to go about his business hoping he will one day come around and see how good the two are together.
For Philip’s part, pride is a terrible thing and it has toppled more than one good man. Philip’s pride is very often the thing that keeps him from truly committing to Elizabeth. Sure, he likes Elizabeth but he has no idea what it is to truly love someone, especially a wife. Elizabeth’s attempts to please and connect with Philip are certainly satisfying but her methods aren’t always what he would hope for. Rather than simply talking to his wife and ironing out their issues, Philip acts the prideful fool and ignores the situation hoping it will one day right itself.
The Bottom Line: Duchess by Mistake is the second enjoyable read in the House of Haverstock series. While the plot isn’t nearly as dastardly and severe as A Lady by Chance, it is equally interesting and entertaining in its own way. The way in which Philip and Elizabeth initially come together is quite funny and though I probably shouldn’t have laughed, I totally did. Elizabeth is kind, caring and beyond generous and with Philip and his fortune at her disposal, she is able to do some real good in the world. Though I hated how often Philip left Elizabeth to her own devices it allowed her to evolve as a character and that is never a bad thing in a book. Even with his pride and stubbornness, Philip is still a thoroughly likeable character even in the moments when you want to choke the life out of him. In addition to Philip and Elizabeth, the cast is filled by old favorites, Elizabeth’s brother Charles Upton and his wife, Anna, Morgie and Lydia and, Elizabeth’s brother, James. Finally, Bolen introduces new characters with Philip’s sisters and extended family and the women of the boarding house. To be sure, Bolen is setting up future installment of the House of Haverstock series with the inclusion of so many people and personalities and this is definitely a very good thing.