No one at Puddling-on-the-Wold ever expected to see Sarah Marchmain enter through its doors. But after the legendary Lady’s eleventh-hour rejection of the man she was slated to marry, she was sent here to restore her reputation . . . and change her mind. It amused Sadie that her father, a duke, would use the last of his funds to lock her up in this fancy facility—she couldn’t be happier to be away from her loathsome family and have some time to herself. The last thing she needs is more romantic distraction . . .
As a local baronet’s son, Tristan Sykes is all too familiar with the spoiled, socialite residents of the Puddling Rehabilitation Foundation—no matter how real their problems may be. But all that changes when he encounters Sadie, a brave and brazen beauty who wants nothing more than to escape the life that’s been prescribed for her. If only Tristan could find a way to convince the Puddling powers-that-be that Sadie is unfit for release, he’d have a chance to explore the intense attraction that simmers between them—and prove himself fit to make her his bride . . .
Time and Setting: England, 1882
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by Caz
Readers return to Maggie Robinson’s fictional Cotswold village of Puddling-on-the-Wold for the second book in her Cotswold Confidential series, Seducing Mr. Sykes. It’s a (mostly) lighthearted romantic comedy in which a determinedly unconventional young woman who doesn’t want to get married finds herself strongly attracted to a rather starchy young man who is intent on keeping his head down and living a quiet life. It might not win any prizes for originality, but it’s a nicely-written, undemanding and fun read that kept me engaged and entertained for the time it took me to read it.
The small village of Puddling-on-the-Wold has for some decades, been used as a kind of rehabilitation centre for members of the nobility who have gone off the rails. With a calmly ordered programme of healthful exercise and diet and a lack of anything vaguely stimulating, the village offers a simple, quiet environment for those sent there to take stock and make changes to their lives. All the villagers are party to the reasons their ‘visitors’ are sent there and are in on the cures, and the place is now so popular as to be able to provide a decent living for the people who live there. Puddling’s board of trustees is now run by the absentee Sir Betram Sykes, whose son, Tristan, takes his responsibilities to the place very seriously. When a fire at one of the cottages means that the inhabitant – Lady Sarah Marchmain – must quickly find somewhere else to stay, he is not enamoured of the idea that she moves to Sykes House while the cottage is repaired and made habitable again. It’s not that Tristan is especially worried about the proprieties; he doesn’t actually live in the house, preferring to reside at a small folly in the grounds which he, an architect by profession, has modified to suit his own taste and comfort. But Lady Sarah –Sadie – is a handful of tall, well-endowed, red-haired impetuosity and Tristan – whose scandalous divorce some years previously from a woman of similarly high-spirits has left him somewhat wary of women in general – wants as little to do with her as possible.
Sadie has been sent to Puddling by her father, the Duke of Islesford, whose regard for her extends only as far as she can be useful to him. Being a man who keeps a lavish lifestyle and likes to gamble, he’s in debt and looking to sell his daughter – who stands to inherit a substantial fortune on her twenty-fifth birthday – to the highest bidder. Sadie’s hoydenish behaviour has already frightened off a couple of would-be suitors, and the duke is getting desperate. Puddling is his final attempt to get her to toe the line before he commits her to an asylum and takes control of her money. Most of the village’s guests stay for a month before returning home, but Sadie has already been there for an extra week and continues to behave outrageously in the hope that she will be able to prolong her stay while she searches for a means to escape her father. The problem, however is that the all-too-handsome Tristan Sykes seems to have seen through her scheme to extend her stay and is completely wise to her attempts to make herself appear unstable and still in need of treatment. So in a way, the fire (which wasn’t her doing) is a blessing in disguise as it will get her out of the village, away from the watchful eyes – and perhaps give her a chance to make her escape.
Things take an unexpected turn, however, when Tristan comes upon Sadie in a state of undress while she is exploring the attics looking for something to wear (all her clothes were lost in the fire) and is shortly followed by her father, who immediately accuses Tristan of compromising his daughter and insists the two of them get married. Appalled, the couple tries to tell the duke that nothing happened, but he insists, threatening to blacken Tristan’s name, brand him as unfit to have charge of a rehabilitation facility and ruin Puddling and its community in the process.
Maggie Robinson has crafted an entertaining and rather charming ‘opposites attract’ story which, for all its surface light-heartedness has some darker undertones. Sadie hasn’t known any warmth or affection since the death of her mother when she was a child; and her father’s plan to put her in an asylum was, sadly, not an unheard of one at the time, when locking away ‘troublesome’ females was an easy solution when a woman didn’t fit the accepted pattern or do as she was told. Tristan’s status as a divorced man had a deleterious effect on his life and career and now all he wants is to live a quiet life, without the sort of tempers and tantrums his first – now deceased – wife was prone to. He fights his attraction to Sadie at first, because her behaviour leads him to believe that she is unstable – which, to be fair, is what she wants him to think – but as he comes to know her and to know her story, he realises he has misjudged her and that he wants to keep her close.
The author has a deft touch with the humour and has created two likeable characters who have to leave behind their emotional baggage if they are to make a life together. They have strong chemistry and the love scenes are sensual and well-written, but I have a couple of reservations overall that prevent me from rating the book more highly. One is that Tristan so easily takes comments made by Sadie’s father and former fiancé at face value, and the other is that while Sadie’s behaviour is understandable given the way she has been treated by her father, her mulish, immature antics continue way past the point at which my understanding gave way to irritation.
With those provisos in mind, if you’re looking for a fairly light-hearted, amusing and sensual historical romance, I’d venture to suggest that Seducing Mr. Sykes might fit the bill.