A Night to Surrender
HarperCollins Publishers, August 30, 2011, $7.99
Spindle Cove is the destination of choice for certain types of well-bred young ladies: the painfully shy, young wives disenchanted with matrimony, and young girls too enchanted with the wrong men. It is a haven for those who live there.
Victor Bramwell, the new Earl of Rycliff, knows he doesn’t belong here. So far as he can tell, there’s nothing in this place but spinsters…and sheep. But he has no choice, he has orders to gather a militia. It’s a simple mission, made complicated by the spirited, exquisite Susanna Finch—a woman who is determined to save her personal utopia from the invasion of Bram’s makeshift army.
Susanna has no use for aggravating men; Bram has sworn off interfering women. The scene is set for an epic battle…but who can be named the winner when both have so much to lose?
Tessa Dare sets her story in the framework of the familiar Regency setting, buttressed by her deep knowledge of the period, but there are subtle and almost imperceptible alterations to the Regency landscape. The setting is the English summertime of 1813, by the sea in Sussex. Our hero, Lieutenant Colonel Victor Bramwell (Bram) is wounded, impatient and coping with the recent death of his father.
Spindle Cove is a quiet seaside town, populated by young women such as distressed wives and debutantes who didn’t “take” who need to regroup and reassess their lives. Who better to put them back together than Susanna Finch?
Born and raised in Spindle Cove, Susanna has very definite ideas about what young women need and under her tutelage, they thrive. She too is wounded, although her scars are hidden beneath her omnipresent gloves.
While Susanna is showing a new family around the town and deftly addressing their concerns, the tranquility is rent by the sound of a loud boom and the smell of powder turns the air acrid. The hero and heroine have an explosive meeting, surrounded by sheep, gunpowder, and mayhem. A kiss is bestowed, green eyes are admired and life will never be the same.
Different. This strange, strong man held her in his protective embrace, and she was lost in his intriguing green stare, and his kiss reverberated in her bones with more force than a powder blast. And now she felt different.
The operative phrase is “protective embrace.” Susanna has chosen to hide away from society, but Bram will crack and eventually destroy her protective carapace. Let’s set the stage. Susanna’s father, Sir Lewis Finch, is an expert on warfare and armaments. Bram is relying on his recommendation that he is fit to return to his military duties in France. Finch has other plans. He arranges for a long-dead peerage to be resurrected and informs the new earl of Rycliff of his new status.
“You did want a command, Bramwell. Well, you’ve just been granted a castle on England’s southern coast, not fifty miles distant from the enemy. As the new lord, you’ll raise a militia to defend it.”
How hard can it be to raise a militia of 24 stout men and train them for combat? There is a battle raging across in France but there’s also one simmering between the earl and the spinster. Her self-confidence has been shaken by her visceral reaction to him and as for the earl, a man who knows that “clever women always made the best lovers,” he’s aghast at the feelings Susanna evokes in him.
“You are my problem, Miss Finch. No, you’re not a nettle, or a burr, or a delicate blossom of any kind. You’re a goddamned powder keg, and every time I draw near you, we start throwing off sparks.”
Spindle Cove is a place of healing and protection for the women who live there. Like Bram, Susanna is a fierce protector of her “troops” and she makes a worthy adversary, particularly when she uses her feminine wiles.
Susanna and Bram are natural leaders, respected and looked up to by their followers. What they have most in common are serious, life-changing wounds. Bram’s knee was shattered in battle and it when he walks it feels like shards of glass shaking and slithering beneath the surface. Susanna’s arms are cross-hatched with scars, a legacy from being ruthlessly bled when years earlier she refused to confirm to the strictures of what was expected of a young woman. Why was she bled? Her relatives permitted it, hoping it would “cure” her of her homesickness and lethargy. Sharing their stories deepens their understanding of each other and brings them ever closer, each feeling more protective than ever of the other.
Their need to be with one another supersedes their duties as leaders of their respective flocks. The words Mark Darcy said to Bridget Jones about loving her just as she is resonate in A Night to Surrender.
His breath caressed her ear. “Just breathe.” He pressed a kiss to her jaw. “Just be here with me. Just be you.”
Warmth bloomed in her heart, suffusing her entire body.
Just be you, he said. He didn’t want her to be different. He didn’t wish she were someone else. He just wanted her to be herself. pg. 194
To fall in love with someone who keeps you safe, even while you fall spiraling into love, is bliss indeed. With each encounter, Bram and Susanna lower the barriers, to lust but also to trust. Bram waits for Susanna’s consent to everything they do, even when her body’s messages are unmistakable.
He didn’t move. “Yes?”
Another man would have taken her at first answer, if he’s bothered to ask at all. But he wanted to be absolutely certain she wanted this, too. If she’d harbored any lingering reluctance, his thoughtful concern dissolved it.
Their journey to an HEA is punctuated with difficulties that are both internal and external. Susanna is responsible for the happiness and well-being of the young women that she has gathered around her in Spindle Cove. When her friend Diana has an asthma attack, only Susanna can help her and Bram has to step back, even though as a soldier who is still convalescing, he doesn’t “cope well with helplessness.”
An army career is filled with routine and marching orders and Bram has some difficulty embracing the chaos of life with Susanna. A turning point in their relationship is when Bram allows her to shackle a ball to his injured leg, in the sea no less, so that the buoyancy of the sea can relieve the pressure on his knee. She doesn’t just give him hope of walking again, but she changes his view of what it is to be a leader. When he says that he can only accept a complete recovery, Susanna says,
“You don’t need a perfect knee for that. You have more leadership in your great toe that most men have in their whole bodies.”
Even though Susanna knows that love is changing her, inside and out, in order to fully embrace her new life, she has to share her transformation with her friends and family. When young Charlotte asks her about her scars, she realizes that “they weren’t all of who she was, but they were a part” and finally, through the healing power of love, Susanna is able to forget about them.
… she would be forever changed by what they’d shared. Changed by him. He’d given her this precious, freeing gift—the courage to accept herself as she was. Scars, freckles, passions, and all.
Susanna’s new independence makes her reject Bram’s assumption that they will marry, since she is gently born and he has taken her virtue. The crux of their struggle is that Bram wants to return to the battlefield and Susanna doesn’t want to be a wife who is left behind. It will take some memorable heart-wrenching events for each to realize that their happiness is where the other is. When Susanna falls dreadfully ill, Bram challenges her to accept medical help that terrifies her and ultimately finds a way to serve his country and stay beside the woman he loves.
A Night to Surrender is a compelling, race-to-the-finish read, but I also found myself stopping to savor the tale of two strong wounded people ultimately basking in a balmy sea of transformative love.
Janet Webb, Book Lovers Resource