Saturday, 9 December 2017

#CBR9 Book 110: "Follow My Lead" by Kate Noble

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Jason Cummings, the Duke of Rayne, has worked diligently for years to be responsible and take care of both his sister and estates. Now, as he is nearing thirty, he feels that it is his duty to find a wife and father some heirs, and after experiencing just how ruthless some of the debutantes on the marriage mart can be, he asks his sister for assistance. Just as he seems to have found a promising lady of suitable temperament, his wooing is temporarily derailed because of bluestocking Miss Winnifred Crane, who wants to join the prestigious Historical Society (one of Jason's refuges) and is willing to do anything to prove her credentials.

Winnifred, or Winn, as she prefers to be known, is the daughter of one of Jason's old art historian professors from Oxford (not that he remembers her much) and claims to be the author of several very insightful and interesting historical essays. Now she wants to be admitted to the Historical Society (who don't even like the idea of a women visiting their hallowed halls, let alone becoming a member of their exclusive group). Unfortunately, her cousin (who also wants to marry her) tries to stop her by claiming HE wrote the texts, and therefore Winn enters into a wager with the head of the society, one of her father's old friends. If she can prove the origins of a famous painting hanging on his wall, she'll be considered for membership.

To win her wager and prove her credentials, Winn needs to go to Europe, Vienna to be exact. She's quite happy to go off alone, but her cousin/fiancee insists on accompanying her (so he can try to sabotage her mission - if she loses the bet, she has promised to give in and marry him). Lord Forrester, the head of the Historical Society and father of the young lady who has taken Jason's fancy, asks him to escort Winn and her little entourage to Calais, where other people will be on hand to see her to her destination. Little do they know that Winn has a plan to trick her cousin and travel on her own. Jason observes her sneaking off the ship to Calais and follows her onto a new one, headed for Hamburg. He is unwillingly trapped on the vessel with her, and once they reach Germany, his honour won't allow Winn to travel unaccompanied to her destination. What follows is a very eventful road trip? Will Miss Sarah Forrester seem like the perfect bride once Jason returns to London?

Jason Cummings was a grade A asshole in the previous book in the series, The Summer of You. He went off on his Grand Tour of Europe, leaving his sister alone to grieve with their elderly father shortly after their mother's death, and even upon returning to England refused to step up and take responsibility or help out, when it was clear that their father's health was deteriorating, and his sister Jane needed help. Getting drunk a lot and trying to flirt with an old flame (now happily married with children) seemed to be all he was good for. Happily, at least five years have passed since the events of that book, and Jason has inherited his father's title. There is some reference made to his irresponsible youth at the beginning of the book, but it's clear that this is an older, much changed man who takes his duties as both the Duke of Rayne and as a caring brother/brother-in-law/uncle seriously. Hence his wish to settle down and marry, as it is "what comes next".

Winnifred Crane is her scholarly father's only daughter and grew up to be both his assistant, clerk and as he aged, his carer. Her mother died when she was young, and for a long time, there was just the two of them. Her father was clearly proud of her intelligence and scholarly aptitude, but nevertheless made her publish her writings under a pseudonym. Now that he has died, Winn is feeling the pressure from her cousin George to agree to the very informal arrangement set up by their mothers when they were still children, and become his wife. Of course, George wants to claim the identity of C.W. Marks for himself and use Winn's brilliant mind to get himself a membership in the Historical Society and a lecture post at Oxford. It wouldn't do for Winn to be the acknowledged and lauded one. Winn doesn't particularly want to marry anyone, and at 30 years of age, considers herself to be firmly on the shelf. Nonetheless, she doesn't really want to hurt her cousin's feelings and therefore tries to soften her rejection by saying that if she can't win her wager, she'll settle down with him.

Jason and Winn find themselves travelling unchaperoned through most of Germany and Austria, and to make it slightly harder for George to hunt them down, end up posing as a newly married couple (don't ALL couples thrown together on a road trip do this sooner rather than later?). While Jason is both angry with and exasperated by Winn to begin with, he also cannot in good conscience let her travel through Europe alone (especially seeing how she's fleeced trying to hire transport by herself). Unfortunately, a pickpocket stole Jason's money before he ended up on the ship to Hamburg, and he doesn't even have a change of clothing with him, so they can't exactly travel in the style to which the Duke is accustomed. They strike some pretty interesting bargains with various locals over the course of their journey for food, lodgings and other services and get more comfortable in each other's company, as well as more informal as the journey progresses.

While I liked that their romance took a while to develop, the presence of Miss Sarah Forrester, Jason's more or less intended back in London, was an uncomfortable complication. While Jason has not formally proposed to her before he heads off on his impromptu road trip with Winn, I hate it when it feels like one of the parties is cheating on someone else. Interestingly, while Winn's relationship with her cousin George is almost more formalised, it never felt like she was betraying anyone (probably because her unwillingness to marry him at all was made so clear from the start). Even as they grow closer and stop trying to fight their attraction to one another, there seems to be this unspoken agreement between Jason and Winn that "what happens in Europe, stays in Europe" and that they can just go their separate ways and forget about each other once Winn's quest is complete.

Interestingly, what Sarah Forrester does once it's clear that Jason is in love with another, is the story in book 4 of this series, If I Fall, which was the first Kate Noble I ever read, and which didn't make much of an impression on me (mainly because Sarah seemed to be a spoiled beyotch in much of the book). Having re-read my review of the book, I'm not sure the book would improve all that much even knowing the backstory that led to Sarah's jilting. I am glad that these other Blue Raven books were a lot more fun, and that I finally got round to reading them.

Judging a book by its cover: Another Kate Noble Regency romance, another partially headless lady running through some foliage in a pretty dress. I'm going to just be grateful that the dress is period appropriate (although this outfit looks way more fashionable and expensive than anything Winn wears over the course of the book, in my recollection).

Crossposted by Cannonball Read.

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