Lord Haven’s Deception by Donna Lea Simpson

Lord Haven's Deception

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Jane Dresden has no patience for the merciless gossip of the ton or the handy hypocrisy of the nobility, and now that her mother has arranged for her to marry the supposedly cruel Viscount Haven, she fears for her future happiness. In an effort to appease her mother and also put an end to her matchmaking, Jane agrees to meet the man, but in a fit of panic runs from the engagement and takes refuge in a country cottage, disguised as a maid. There she meets a kind and comforting local farmer who shares her taste for simplicity and quickly captures her heart.

Lord Haven had long ago resigned himself to the unpleasant duties of his title and accepted the hard truth that taking a wife and producing an heir was among them—though he shudders at the prospect of spending his life with the charmless woman his mother has arranged for him to wed. Wishing to delay their formal meeting until the last possible moment, he shrugs off his stifling attire and escapes to his favorite sanctuary, a simple cottage on his grand estate. There he meets a caring and captivating maid who steals his heart, and in the guise of a common farmer he proceeds to court her, fearing all the while that his ruse will be discovered.

As the two struggle with the implications of their deceit and the shattering knowledge that revealing their true identities will doom their blossoming bond, each is forced to choose between duty and heartfelt desire, never suspecting that their fated match holds the key to a true and lasting love.

This is a fully revised edition of a book originally titled A Country Courtship.

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Publisher and Release Date: Beyond the Page, March 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency Yorkshire
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review by Sara

I have a weakness for books where the main characters are in disguise. As much as it seems counterproductive to a romantic story, there is just something about a disguise in fiction that allows characters to be their truest selves. Donna Lea Simpson uses this idea well Lord Haven’s Deception which is the re-release of her 2003 book A Country Courtship.

All that Jane Dresden wants is an escape from the pressure to marry well. A move to Bath from London hasn’t improved her chances of finding an appropriate man to marry. On the fast track to spinsterhood, Jane is manipulated by her aunt and mother to entertain a betrothal to the reclusive and supposedly taciturn Viscount Haven. She and her aunt travel to Yorkshire to meet Haven and determine if they’ll suit one another; but in her heart she would rather give it all up to live alone in a cottage independently than marry a stranger who she fears is cruel and incapable of loving her.

Upon arriving in Yorkshire, Jane panics at the direction her life is taking and she sneaks out of the coaching inn before meeting Haven, making it appear to her aunt that she’s been kidnapped rather than simply traveling back to Bath. Unfortunately, Jane has no plan to get herself home and has to take refuge in a stable when it begins to rain. Alone and scared after being assaulted by some local men, Jane lies about her identity, calling herself “Jenny” when she’s discovered the next morning by the stable’s owner Mary Cooper. Mary takes pity on the young woman and lets her stay in her home without questioning the circumstances that led her to hiding.

Geraint Neville, Viscount Haven, gave up on finding a beautiful or engaging wife after meeting the shallow debutantes of London who compete to marry the highest title and deepest pockets. Gerry fears that the only woman he’ll ever love is his childhood friend Mary who was never an appropriate choice to be his wife. With pressure from his family to marry and produce an heir, he agrees to meet with Miss Jane Dresden but he doesn’t hold much hope that they’ll suit after hearing her described as plain and respectable by her aunt. Matters only get worse when his reluctant betrothed is kidnapped from the local inn before they can even meet one another. Hoping to ignore his responsibilities for a short while, Gerry escapes to Mary’s house where he is immediately captivated by the young woman introduced to him as Jenny, a visiting cousin.

To Gerry, Jenny is exactly the kind of woman he’s always wanted even if her station makes her an unsuitable choice. She is attractive, intelligent and knows him only as a gentleman famer named Mr. Neville rather than a viscount. He cannot stay away from Jenny and creates ways for them to spend time together, falling more and more in love with her even though he knows that he and Jane Dresden are practically engaged. It is a complicated matter that only gets worse when he gets the sense that Jenny might not be interested in being with him if he were revealed as Lord Haven. For Jane, falling in love with Gerry without revealing her real circumstances is akin to playing with fire since her identity has to be revealed at some point. Could he love her knowing she is a gentlewoman and not the servant girl she claims to be?

Jane and Gerry are rather pleasant characters who have been hurt by the way Society judges them. Upon ascending to his title Gerry did his duty by traveling from Yorkshire to London and attempted to integrate into the ton culture. Instead he received censure for his country mannerisms and the women seemed purely interested in the title and not the man. For Jane, her inability to take in Bath society caused her nothing but self-doubt and misery when judged by her social-climber of an aunt. I appreciate the journey both characters take to discover who they really are when all the trappings of titles or wealth are set aside. Fear of failure or rejection in their regular lives lets them lose themselves the fantasy of a simple life where they are nothing more than a servant girl and a gentleman farmer and love is just as easy. What they come to find is that the reality of love can be as complicated as navigating a season or trusting in yourself and your judgements.

It is a little ridiculous how fast Gerry’s affections for Jane develop, especially as they don’t spend more than a few days together. The scenes where they are getting to know one another, through leisurely walks or just doing simple tasks together, are very nice and show how well suited they are for one another when stripped of rank or expectation. What bothers me is that we are only shown perhaps two or three times where they are interacting and suddenly Gerry is ready to throw convention out the window and marry the servant girl. I believe we’re meant to feel it’s his romantic heart at work, and although Jane is just as susceptible to this fast courtship I need more of their emotions on the page before I can make that leap with them. It’s all romantic gesture without the character development to back it up.

In the end however, I did get swept up in Lord Haven’s Deception and appreciate how well things worked out for everyone. Jane’s time as “Jenny” allowed her to discover who she was without the expectations of her aunt or mother pressing down on her. Gerry came to understand what a true and heartfelt love for a woman was as opposed to the romanticized version he clung to. Their relationship was a perfect case of serendipity, with all the charms that I enjoy whenever I read a sweet romance.

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