Lady Honora Parker must get engaged as soon as possible, and only a particular type of man will do. Nora seeks a mate so abhorrent, so completely unacceptable, that her father will reject the match–leaving her free to marry the artist she loves. Who then is the most appalling man in Manhattan? The wealthy, devilishly handsome financier, Julius Hatcher, of course….
Julius is intrigued by Nora’s ruse and decides to play along. But to Nora’s horror, Julius transforms himself into the perfect fiancé, charming the very people she hoped he would offend. It seems Julius has a secret plan all his own–one that will solve a dark mystery from his past, and perhaps turn him into the kind of man Nora could truly love.
Time and Setting: New York, 1890
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars
Review by Sara
Readers are always clamoring for something different when it comes to historical romance. Joanna Shupe has answered the call with her new book A Daring Arrangement; set during New York’s Gilded Age and using the extravagance and elegance of the time to create a sense that anything is possible, including a jaded heart finding true love.
For most young women the chance to mix and mingle with New York City’s upper class would be an incredible adventure, but for Lady Honora Parker it’s penance. When her father, the Earl of Stratton, caught Nora in the arms of artist Robert Landon he immediately shipped her off to America to spend time with her aunt and uncle. Having an ocean between them does nothing to cool Nora’s love for Robert and no soirée can distract her from her determination to find a way to return to England and his arms. Knowing that her father will not summon her back home without good reason, Nora concocts a plan to attach herself to the most scandalous man in New York, causing enough gossip that her father will have to take notice. To Nora’s mind the idea is foolproof. All she needs is the right kind of man, one who’ll get her name in the papers but won’t press for anything more than a business arrangement with her.
While out to dinner with her aunt and uncle, Nora is distracted by a loud ruckus in the ballroom above the dining rooms. A quick inquiry reveals that the party upstairs is being held for Mr. Julius Hatcher, an infamous financier on the stock market and an upstart in the eyes of the elite. The dining room begins to swirl with gossip about the man and for Nora it makes him the perfect candidate for her scheme. Excusing herself from the table Nora finds the ballroom and is shocked to see it filled with men attempting to hold a cocktail party while on horseback! Nora’s introduction to Mr. Hatcher goes poorly when he mistakes her as a woman hired as the entertainment; however his drunkenness makes him quite agreeable to her plans. With a shocking kiss to seal the deal, Nora secures the hand of a fake fiancé who’ll create a stir big enough to be felt across the Atlantic.
Waking up with a dreadful hangover, Julius’s headache only gets worse with the arrival of a proper English lady on his doorstep. The nonsense coming out of her mouth about fake betrothals makes Julius question his recollections of his birthday party the night before and a fuzzy memory of kissing a beautiful woman. Lady Honora’s plan to use the gossip surrounding his name for her benefit just reeks of foolishness, but her offer to use her connections within the Knickerbocker set to bring Julius into their fold is something he can’t ignore. He’s spent years trying to gain entrance into their exclusive clubs and gatherings in the hopes of finding the men responsible for his father’s ruin years before. Despite his wealth, Julius hasn’t managed to get his foot past the door, but an engagement to a society lady like Nora will open those doors wide enough to see all the secrets hidden behind them.
A Daring Arrangement is the kind of romance where the main characters start off so at odds that you’re drawn in just to know how they’ll end up together. Nora is a romantic, seeing her love for her suitor Robert as pure and uncompromising, born from his ability to see her as an individual. Julius is practical, seeing things through a businessman’s eyes and having little care for attachments or sentiment. Their feelings stem from how they were raised; Nora being starved for love by a remote father and Julius poisoned by his parent’s damaged relationship. Neither one begins the arrangement with hopes that a connection will blossom; however in spending time with each other they each begin to see the flaws in their previous viewpoints.
Julius is a swoon-worthy hero who embodies some of the best (and worst) qualities of the American success story. He’s built himself from the ground up and his pride at his achievements borders on arrogance when he flaunts his scandals with no apologies. Meeting Nora and being her fake fiancé in public makes Julius reevaluate the importance of a man’s reputation when it spills over to those closest to him. He cleans up his act, at first to keep the society men eager to know him but then to prove to Nora that he’s more than just a walking target for gossip.
Nora’s journey from naïve, slightly impulsive girl to a courageous and responsible young woman is the heart of the story. Despite her feelings that only Robert understands her there are many signs that Nora doesn’t quite know herself yet. She manipulates situations to get what she wants, not understanding that a scandal large enough to get her father’s attention will also ruin her future. Julius confronts her about her behavior as well as Robert’s lackluster efforts in their relationship, explaining that words mean nothing if they’re not followed up by actions. Nora’s eyes are opened to what a real relationship feels like and what true love means as she sees her own value through Julius’ respect and attention towards her.
A Daring Arrangement is the first book I’ve read from Ms. Shupe and I’m already eager for more. Her world of Knickerbocracy and the glamor of 1890’s New York is easily my new favorite setting for historical romance and I’ll be checking out her backlist while I wait for what’s next in The Four Hundred series.