The Fortune Hunter
St. Martin’s Press/ July 29, 2014 / $26.99 print / $12.99 digital
In 1875, Sisi, the Empress of Austria is the woman that every man desires and every woman envies.
Beautiful, athletic and intelligent, Sisi has everything - except happiness. Bored with the stultifying etiquette of the Hapsburg Court and her dutiful but unexciting husband, Franz Joseph, Sisi comes to England to hunt. She comes looking for excitement and she finds it in the dashing form of Captain Bay Middleton, the only man in Europe who can outride her. Ten years younger than her and engaged to the rich and devoted Charlotte, Bay has everything to lose by falling for a woman who can never be his. But Bay and the Empress are as reckless as each other, and their mutual attraction is a force that cannot be denied.
It's impossible to discuss The Fortune Hunter without addressing the big question: as follow up to the magnificent The American Heiress, does it deliver? The answer is yes. But in this novel, Daisy Goodwin gives us not one, but two heroines: Elizabeth, called Sisi, the glamorous but jaded and calculating Empress of Austria, and Charlotte Baird, a plain but idealistic British heiress. Both are based on true-life women.
Caught in between these two women is a dashing young cavalry officer named Bay Middleton—also based on a historically true person. (And yes, he is a distant relation to Kate Middleton.)
Together, these three characters create a complex and unpredictable love triangle. Goodwin is incredibly skilled at using the conventions and protocols of the time to push her characters into corners. In The Fortune Hunter, Bay suffers from these predicaments the most. He is a classic womanizer, but without money or a title, all he has is his charm and good looks. When the book opens, he is tainted by the whiff of scandal thanks to his affair with a married woman. He knows it might be time to start settling down; he can’t be a playboy forever. He meets Charlotte, heiress to the Lennox fortune, he is both amused by her feisty personality, and intrigued by her fortune.
Charlotte, while not beautiful, is a catch because of her money. Many women in her position would be leveraging that to the hilt. But Charlotte is not like most women. Having lost her mother at a young age to a riding accident, she does not enjoy the favored sport among her set. Instead, she turned to the relatively new art of photography, and it has become her passion.
When Bay starts showing interest in her, Charlotte’s snobby sister-in-law tries to close ranks around her. She warns Charlotte that Bay is a fortune hunter. Charlotte is having none of it: Bay thrills her. He has brought her to life:
Her hair, which was a nondescript shade of brown, seemed to have an
unaccustomed luster. Her mouth, which was too wide to be fashionable, for once did not look to big for her small face. There had been a time when it would have taken all her courage to go downstairs and face the scrutiny of the other women with their perfect ringlets, but since she had met Bay she no longer felt their stares so keenly.
And why wouldn’t she be smitten? Fortune hunter or not, Bay is handsome, he has a great sense of humor, he seems to take her photography seriously, and he’s a daring, gifted sportsman. Bay and Charlotte are all-but engaged when fate throws a wrench into things: Bay has been summoned to the duty of acting as a “pilot” for the visiting Empress of Austria for the hunting season. This is the last thing he wants to do since his courtship of Charlotte feels like it’s still on tenuous ground because of her nay-saying family. But he’s in no position to turn down the call. And that’s when his future—and his very character—becomes challenged.
Elizabeth of Austria is beautiful, mysterious, and one of the best riders Bay has ever seen. He finds himself dazzled by her, and the bored and lonely Empress is equally captivated by him. Caught between Sisi and Charlotte, he is not strong enough to resist the lure of royal attention. And yet deep down he seems to know that the best version of himself is the man he is when he is with Charlotte. Still, he plays it both ways for much of this book. At one point, finding himself on the verge of being busted for his duplicity, “He knew himself to be a man without character.”
The Fortune Hunter is very much a book about character: honesty versus duplicity, the pursuit of pleasure versus the pursuit if accomplishment, and how far one is willing to bend for the sake of appearances. Throughout this story, Bay is forced to choose not only between two very different women, but between two very different versions of the man he will ultimately become. It is his complexity, his struggle, his mistakes, his passion and his pride, that make Bay Middleton one of the most compelling heroes in recent memory.
Learn more or pre-order a copy of The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin, available July 29, 2014:
Jamie Brenner is the author of Ruin Me and The Gin Lovers, both published by St. Martin’s Press. She writes erotic novels under the pen name Logan Belle, including Miss Chatterley, Now or Never, and The Blue Angel trilogy. For more please visit www.jamiebrenner.com or follow her @jamieLbrenner.