From the back: Hebe Carlton had little idea of her own charm until Major Alex Beresford arrived on the island of Malta. She made no attempt to cast out lures and treated him with warm practicality, showing an insight and ability to read him that few others had managed. His attentions made Hebe blossom, and her stepmother began to entertain hopes of a wedding. Then a letter arrived for Alex. The proposal of marriage he’d made to another before ever meeting Hebe had been accepted at last. He should be happy. . . But now Alex could only contemplate marrying one person — and it wasn’t his betrothed.
Hebe is no diamond of the first water. Orphaned and living with her widowed stepmother on Malta, Hebe is everyone’s friend. She isn’t out to snare a husband and she doesn’t excite the interest of the officers of the Royal Navy or Army. That is, until she meets Major the Honorable Alex Beresford, second son of the 3rd Earl of Tasborough.
Alex is no rake. An Army intelligence officer, he makes his first appearance in Hebe’s home bone weary, having just arrived from a mission. He isn’t in the mood to be charming to a young, and he assumes, marriage-minded miss. He is surprised, therefore when Hebe arranges for him to have an afternoon nap in the garden.
The author packs a lot in a short book. She tries to make every scene count. When Hebe and Alex are tossed overboard and washed ashore in France, she prudently decides not to make their trip one near miss after another and fraught with danger. Instead, she develops the characters. Hebe is resourceful in a crisis. She dresses Alex’s saber wound, and the author ups the stakes by making Alex susceptible to a marsh fever when exposed to prolong cold or wet. He gets them to a shepherd’s hut before succumbing.
A delirious Alex takes advantage of Hebe while they are hiding from the French. Hebe believes Alex thinks she’s Clarrisa, the woman he’s betrothed to. Though the experience is painful, Hebe is quick to realize that part of her didn’t want him to stop. She loves him. As for Alex, he awakes from his fever with a vague memory of the incident, but she convinces him that he was dreaming. Since neither has revealed their loved to the other, more misunderstandings ensue. However, the truth finally comes to light and they have their happily ever after.
I like how the author decided not to make Anna a former lover or mistress of Alex’s. She makes it very clear that Anna and Alex are friends because of Anna’s late husband, and there was never anything between the major and his sergeant’s wife.
Shout out to Jane Austen: Hebe is seen reading both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.
One pet peeve: Anna, a Spanish lady who confesses that she doesn’t read English very well, points out the newspaper’s death notice of the Earl Tasborough to Hebe.
The book also introduces, very briefly, the couple of the author’s next book. Hebe’s cousin, Joanna Fulgrave and Major Gregory, friend and groomsman of Alex.
Finished: 13 September 2006
Disclaimer: I purchased this book.