Improper Arrangements (novella) by Juliana Ross

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France, 1866

A reckless infatuation nearly ruined Lady Alice Cathcart-Ross in her youth, but from the moment she spies Elijah Philemon Keating scaling a rock face without a rope in sight, the man awakens her long-buried desire. Alice has come to the high Alps in search of a mountaineer, and in Elijah she finds the guide of her dreams.

Though Elijah is known as one of the greatest explorers of the age, a tragic accident has destroyed his taste for adventure and society. Elijah can’t deny his attraction to Alice, but he resolves to avoid the entanglement that could accompany it. He promises Alice one week in the Alps, and no more.

Alice agrees, valuing her independence above all else. But as the heights they climb by day are overshadowed by the summits of passion they reach at night, these vows become harder and harder to keep…

Publisher and Release Date: Carina Press, November 11, 2013

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Victorian Europe
Genre: Historical romance
Heat Level: 2.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

While reading this book, I recalled a recent correspondence with a good friend about morality in the Victorian era. He studies the life and works of author Charles Dickens as I study Jane Austen, and we often discuss how many people (wrongly) believe that the Victorians were more moral and upstanding when they were just as people have always been, with very human weaknesses and desires. Outward appearances and expectations were simply stricter in Polite Society and discretion was of the utmost importance.

Juliana Ross’ provocative and engrossing Victorian era Improper series explores these improprieties. In this, the second novella in the series, Lady Alice Cathcart-Ross is an affluent spinster who, as a young woman, willingly gave herself to a man. Later, when another man offered for her only to jilt her, she decided to live life on her own terms, beholden to no man. She explained to her very understanding (and open-minded) parents that she wished to live on her own, with her own household and servants, and travel the world. This is where we find her in Argentière at the novella’s beginning and, at the suggestion of her brother, seeking an experienced guide for her journey on the High-Level Route in the Alps.

Eli Keating is a mountain climber, adventurer and, as E.P. Keating, a notable author of several books on mountain climbing and hiking. He also works as a guide for tourists interested in experiencing adventure hikes. When he first meets Alice on the road to her hotel, there is an instantaneous electric attraction that quickly propels them into a feverish and erotic encounter that shocks Alice at her visceral reaction to him. Afterwards, she quietly and quickly sends him on his way only to meet with him the very next day when he turns out to be the only person who responds to her inquiries for a guide.

They form a truce and make plans – improper arrangements – and embark on a weeklong journey where they agree to indulge in an illicit but limited affair, with no attachments or expectations, as they explore the High-Level Route.

As in the first novella, Improper Relations, Ms Ross uses the captivating and emotional first person point of view, an effective device that I have not seen used much in this genre but one that I very much enjoy. The story is told completely from Alice’s point of view.

The sense of time and place in this story is beautifully vivid and expressive. The author gives extremely detailed descriptions of their route, the rough and challenging terrain they encounter, their long daily hikes, the stops at local inns, the makeshift survival camp that Eli creates and, especially, the unusual, practical, and efficient clothing that Eli outfits Alice in for their journey. I could feel the dust of the trails, smell the fresh, clean air, taste the hearty fare they savored at the end of each long day, and enjoy the lovely conversations they have as they get to know each other.

“But this…this was desire. There was no mistaking the spark that passed between us, a current of attraction that rushed through my veins and pulled the breath from my lungs. Rational thought deserted me. My mouth was dry, my palms were icy and the roar of my heartbeat drowned out the music of birdsong and dancing streams.” (p16)

When their journey ends, feelings have changed and unexpected decisions must be faced that will affect their lives forever. These are portrayed with both beauty and grace.

As a librarian who breathes research, I really appreciate the author’s recommended reading list on hiking the route that Eli and Alice travel, including reference to a Pinterest board with sample images of the kinds of clothing Alice might have worn for ease of movement while hiking.

If you enjoy the works of Sabrina Darby and Kate McKinley, you might enjoy Juliana Ross’ clear voice and writing style.

A beautifully written novella by an author to watch.

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