Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D’Alessandro, Candice Hern
It Happened One Season
Avon, March 29, 2011, $7.99
Readers were asked what story they would most like to see from four bestselling authors. They replied and then voted on the top four. This is what was the final result...
A handsome hero, younger brother of a titled lord, returns from war, battle-scarred and world-weary. He lives like a recluse, but family duty calls. The older brother has only daughters and so for the sake of the succession, the hero must find a bride and beget an heir.
A young lady, shy or unattractive, facing yet another season without a suitor never expects to find herself the object of anyone’s affections. Receiving a marriage proposal within hours of meeting the hero was definitely something she’d never anticipated.
Four different authors, same premise, four different stories.
“The Seduction of Sebastian Trantor” by Stephanie Laurens
Captain Sebastian Montgomery Trantor meets Tabitha Makepeace by the light of a single lamp in the library, which they both separately break into, during a ball. In order to cover up their crime, he kisses her, thereby compromising her in front of gossips. While they must now marry, Sebastian confesses to Tabitha’s parents that he wants to really marry her. He does not want to just pretend a betrothal in order to save her reputation and solve the blackmailing intrigue that she’s involved in.
'Despite the brevity of our acquaintance, I find Tabitha much more to my taste as a wife than any of the flibbertigibbets inhabiting the ton’s ballrooms. However, I also wish to declare my interest in preserving the fiction of our engagement—specifically my intention to pursue Miss Makepeace’s consent to making what has commenced as a mere façade into a reality. I’m therefore requesting your permission to pay my addresses to her, albeit in an unconventional way. I foresee that it might require a certain degree of persuasion to convince her that, while she may not be the conventional, perfect wife, she may yet be the perfect wife for me.'
Sebastian then proceeds to woo her, taking her to balls and outings, protecting her in their scheme to unmask the blackmailer, and through it all, implicitly convincing her of their suitability for marriage in fact, not fiction. His final proposal scene brings a lump to the throat.
'We make a good team. I know this mission is over, but we could find other missions—do other things. Together. I know you think you’re unmarriageable, and that you weren’t—aren’t—looking for a husband, that you’re aren’t enamored of the married state at all, but we suit so well, and I like all your odd quirks—all the way you’re so different from other young ladies. I would be honored if you leave my ring on your finger.'
“Only Love” by Mary Balogh
Major Jack Gilchrist and Cleopatra Pritchard meet in the wallflower section of the dance floor. Less than twenty-four hours later, Jack proposes, but Cleo demurs. As a proposal, it quite lacks panache. As they’re walking home from Hyde Park, Jack says:
'I was wondering, Mrs. Pritchard, if you would be good enough to marry me . . . if it would suit you to do so, of course.'
She’s afraid she’s barren from her experience in her first marriage, so she does not want to marry him. Jack redeems himself, from his graceless proposal, with this answer.
'There are no guarantees with any marriage. Any lady I choose to marry may prove barren. Or she may produce only daughters. Or I may be incapable of begetting children.'
Despite this, she offers an affair with intent to marry if she becomes pregnant. While distasteful for him, he initially acquiesces, but after the first interaction, both become disenchanted with the concept of an affair. He wants to marry her in earnest and she’s in love with him. Our hero saves the day, by declaring:
'There was no moral objection. There is no reason in the world why you and I cannot enjoy each other if we choose. Except for one. I want you as my wife, not my lover. I want that for only one reason that matters. Having children with you is not that reason. The fact that I love you is.'
“Hope Springs Eternal” by Jacquie D’Alessandro
Captain Alex Trentwell saves Penelope Markham from a fate worse than death in a grubby section of Covent Garden. He carries guilt over causing her brother’s death due to his hesitation in the heat of battle. She believes she’s plain and unattractive in her glasses and her painting habits;she likes to paint males nudes. Together, their lust is incandescent.
Through the first months of marriage, he is in love with his wife and their life, but eaten up with guilt, because he hasn’t confessed his crime towards her brother. Finally, he tells her, and she saves she absolves him.
'I’m sorry, Penelope. Sorry Edward died. Sorry I killed him. Sorry I didn’t tell you before now.'
'It’s clear you’ve borne an enormous burden of guilt. I’ll say to you now what I would have if you’d told me when we first met;and I’m certain my brother would echo these sentiments. You did not kill Edward. Edward was a soldier, and . . . soldiers die. The point is, you are not only human, you are humane.'
“Fate Strikes a Bargain” by Candice Hern
Captain Nathaniel Beckwith and Miss Philippa Reynolds meet at a ball on the balcony behind a potted orange tree. They instantly realize they’re two misfits; she, because she’s lame; he, because his mind’s disturbed from years of warfare. Both are too awkward by themselves, but would be good for each other as a married team.
Her family cossets and coddles her, and she hates that feeling of suffocation under the guise of love and caring. In complete opposition, Nat advocates her taking up whatever activity she desires, including driving a team and horse riding.
'I should like to see you ride. When we are married, I will buy you a proper horse and we will ride about the estate together. I might even challenge you to a race of two. And you shall have as many dashing habits as you please.'
Nat isn’t playacting about not caring overmuch about her lameness. In a conversation with a friend, this is what he had to say when his friend said that Philippa was an interesting choice for Nat’s bride.
'Because she is lame? What the bloody hell does that matter? She is a charming girl, with a razor wit and a kind heart. Handsome, too, by God.'
Philippa, in turn, has insight into Nat’s demons.
'No one suffers as you do?' asks Philippa.
'What do you know of my so-called suffering?' asks Nat.
'I do not know what you may have experienced, but it is clear to me that whatever it was affected you deeply. And you think because your fellow officers do not speak of it that they were not similarly affected. You are wrong, though. You are not alone in your pain. Because anyone who lived through that carnage and came out unmoved would not be human.'
Despite this melding of spirits, when Philippa realizes that she could be trapping Nat with a promise of an heir, but in reality, her twisted pelvis might make conception and delivery difficult, if not, impossible, she is prepared to let him go.
'You still need an heir,' says Philippa.
'I have one, says Nat. Our cousin Leonard will inherit the earldom after me, and he’s welcome to it.'
'I thought you hated him.'
'We do. He is a nitwit of the first order and an embarrassment to the family. Yes, I hate him, but I love you more.'
Ah! Yes! This book has several shining moments in its stories, where the characters rise above the ordinary, the mundane into passionate originality for what they believe in. A wonderful experiment of a common premise across the four stories by four very different authors writing in the time period.
Keira Soleore is an aspiring Medieval & Regency historical romance writer and the comments moderator for IASPR’s Journal of Popular Romance Studies. On the web, she can found on at Cogitations & Meditations, on her website, and on Facebook. She also tweets.