“Merry Patricia Wilding was sitting on a cobblestone wall, sketching three rutabagas and daydreaming about the unicorn.”
Thus begins The Windflower, Laura London’s classic 1984 romance about a man consumed with revenge who kidnaps and takes the wrong young woman aboard his half-brother’s pirate ship.
Author Deborah Simmons (The Vicar’s Daughter, The Devil Earl) used to rave about this book. By then the name Laura London (Tom and Sharon Curtis) had permeated my consciousness because everyone raved about this book, but it was just an '80s pirate romance, wasn’t it? “No,” she responded, “not in the way you’re thinking about it. Really...would I steer you wrong?”
I pressed her. “So you’re promising me it isn’t just another bodice-ripping romance like The Flame and the Flower (Kathleen Woodiwiss, 1972) or A Pirate’s Love (Johanna Lindsey, 1978)? She assured me that it was not. And so I asked her to write a review of it for me, which in turn led me to scrounge a copy at one of many UBSs I called or visited (this was back in the day, when that’s how you looked for OOP books).
For some reason, The Windflower sat unread in my library for more than a dozen years. Then came The Great Purge of 2010, when I ruthlessly reduced the size of my library. I can’t tell you how many times I sat with it in my hands, debating whether or not I should keep it or get rid of it.
The Windflower was among hundreds of romances I very carefully placed into thick brown grocery bags and took to Half Priced Books for a pittance. My reasoning was simple: The Windflower was like that blouse that hung unworn in my closet for years. Yes, it was expensive...even on sale...and I loved the way it looked and felt on the hanger, but deep down knew that olive looked awful on me. I wasn’t ever going to wear it just like I was never going to read The Windflower.
And then I learned that it was one of about eight Laura London romances to be reissued as e-books this month and in May. The publisher sent me some digital copies, and I picked two to read. Having read both Moonlight Mist (1979) and her first published book—A Heart Too Proud (1977)—I’ll be one of a legion of romance readers ready to download The Windflower on April 29th.
Known as the 'naughtier twin' of Downpatrick Hall, Miss Lynden is far more brash and adventurous than her sister Lorraine. After flying a kite into a tree and climbing out onto a branch, she is saved from a terrible fall by Lord Justin Melbrooke, who pulls her through his open window...and into his bedroom.
It's all quite innocent, of course. But when an unannounced visitor walks in—and sees Lord Justin untangling Lynden's skirt—there is only one way to salvage her reputation: marriage. In a whirlwind ceremony, Lynden finds herself exchanging vows with one of England's most sought-after bachelors. Neither one is truly ready to settle down, but their heated words soon turn to heated kisses, and their marriage of convenience may just turn out to be the match of a lifetime.
In some ways, Moonlight Mist is easily recognizable as an old school romance. The story is revealed entirely in the heroine’s point of view. Linnie is seventeen, impetuous and feisty, very much a foot-stomping, hair-tossing heroine. Justin, a decade older, is a confident man of the world, and Robert Redford handsome. Secrets are kept, Big Misunderstandings are made, mistresses are duplicitous, and Justin’s eyes glitter with coldness...a lot…as a result of Linnie’s impetuousness.
That’s where the similarities end, though. Justin is not only gorgeous, he’s a renowned poet, thoughtful and kind, and suffers Linnie’s childishness with patience. His eyes often do glitter with coldness, but would warm up immediately if she were honest with herself, and with him, about her feelings and the secrets she keeps.
When Linnie wishes to remain untouched, he gives her the time she needs, although he is greatly tempted to do otherwise. This is a book without any explicitness or lust-thought, but with a subtle eroticism nonetheless. His wonderfully wry sense of humor and ability to see beneath her flaws to discover her generous, impish nature and general joie de vivre endeared him to me. By the time I finished reading Moonlight Mist, I knew Justin Melbrooke was among my favorite heroes of all time.
Both Moonlight Mist and A Heart Too Proud share something that isn’t officially revealed until late in their respective stories, and given the age of both books, I don’t feel I’m revealing any spoilers here: Both heroes fall, and fall hard for their heroines very early on. Like the POV in Moonlight Mist, only the heroine’s is given in A Heart Too Proud, but readers can intuit through many of the hero’s actions the emotion behind them.
A Heart Too Proud
Lovely young Elizabeth Cordell had been well warned about the notorious Lord Nicholas Dearborne. She vowed that never would her handsome guardian add her to his long list of romantic conquests.
When shadowy danger on his country estate threatened Elizabeth, she rejected the shelter of Dearborne's arms. When he then insisted Elizabeth plunge into the dizzying social whirl of Regency London, she refused to cling to him for support. Even when unjust scandal promised ruin for her reputation, Elizabeth would not think of humbling herself by explaining the truth to him. Only near-disaster could teach Elizabeth that pride might be the greatest folly of all—and love the sweetest reward.
To all appearances, Nicholas Dearborne is more of a typical romance hero than Justin Holbrooke. The former is dark...the latter is blond. He gives off a much more dangerous, sensual air, and his actions and words are very much of the “I like you too much and will do whatever I can to push you away” variety.
I read A Heart Too Proud before Moonlight Mist, and because of Dearborne’s aggressiveness and Laura London's rather distinctive prose style, I wasn’t at all sure I was going to like her books. But I delighted in Elizabeth’s intellect and writing skills and found A Heart Too Proud to be a [virtual] page-turner. Before I knew it, I was well through the book when a crucial scene had me in tears. And at that moment I knew the writing team of Laura London had me; if I cry while reading a book, I’m a goner. And so I was.
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Keep up with her on her My Obsessions tumblr blog, Goodreads (where she spends much of her time as late), follow her on Pinterest, or on @laurie_gold, where she mostly tweets about publishing news and [probably too often] politics.