Driven to despair by her husband’s endless abuse and ridicule, Lucinda, Lady Denbigh, can endure no more. With no one to turn to, she flees London to take quiet refuge in the countryside, determined to build a new life of her own. Posing as a widow, she finds a small cottage to lease on the far reaches of a vast estate, relieved that she might finally find peace and safety—until her new landlord, the strikingly handsome and taciturn Lord Hugo Wanstead, presents an entirely different kind of threat to her composure.
Just back from the wars, Hugo is tormented by the physical and emotional scars that mark him. With his estate near financial ruin and his sleep torn by nightmares, he wishes only to be left in solitude. But when he meets the new widowed tenant on his estate, he finds her hauntingly beautiful in body and soul—and finds himself overcome by powerful sensual longing.
While the gentle Lucinda conjures up ways to draw the handsome and hurting Hugo out of his loneliness, he’s intrigued by her courage and her lively mind. But just as an inevitable passion stirs between these two damaged souls, a damning secret about Lucinda’s troubled past will be laid bare, and they will be forced to confront each other and a cruel foe to save their only chance at love.
Publisher and Release Date: Beyond the Page, November 2017 (Originally published 2008 under the name Michele Ann Young)
Time and Setting: England, 1812
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by Caz
Ann Lethbridge originally published The Lady Flees Her Lord using the pseudonym Michele Ann Young in 2008. Ms. Lethbridge’s name is familiar to me as one of the authors in the Mills and Boon/Harlequin Historical stable, and having enjoyed other books of hers, I was interested in this, the story of a young woman trapped in abusive marriage who manages to escape and make a new life for herself.
Lucinda, the Countess of Denbigh counted herself fortunate to have married one of the handsomest gentlemen of the ton, but it wasn’t long before she realised that her husband had been more interested in her dowry and generous allowance than in her. He blames her when she fails to conceive, taunts her mercilessly about the fact that she’s not slender and willowy as is the fashion, and insists she diets constantly. He humiliates her at every turn, keeps mistresses, has already squandered her dowry and continues to pester her to provide extra money from her allowance – which she’s using in order to keep the household running. When he tells her they are leaving London in order to attend a house-party given by his disreputable friend, the Duke of Vale, Lucinda is horrified. Vale clearly has designs on her and Denbigh makes no bones about the sort of party it’s going to be, informing her that she is to act as hostess to a group of raffish gentlemen and the ‘ladies’ who are going to be provided for their entertainment.
Fearing for her safety should she attend, Lucinda finally takes the bull by the horns and leaves her London house in dead of night. She has very sensibly channelled some of her allowance into small investments (unbeknownst to Denbigh) and having these as a safety net, sets off for a coaching inn in the City. While waiting for the stage, a beggar woman literally thrusts a child into Lucinda’s arms before running off – leaving Lucinda with a straggly, scrawny little girl who can be little more than two or three years of age. Full of compassion for the child – and unwilling to dump her at the nearest workhouse – Lucinda decides to take her with her into her new life.
Captain Lord Hugo Wanstead sustained a serious leg injury at the battle of Badajoz and has, after several weeks of treatment and recuperation abroad, at last returned to England. He is riding home to The Grange, his estate at Beacon Hill in Kent and is within sight of the house when a little girl darts out from the trees and spooks his horse. He manages to maintain control of the animal as a woman rushes to grab the child, and when he is able to divert his attention from the horse, Hugo notices that the woman, though modestly gowned, is possessed of the sort of curvy figure which is enough to make any man’s mouth water. He immediately dismisses the thought in favour of sternly reminding her that she is trespassing, and the woman promptly introduces herself as Mrs. Graham and informs Hugo that she resides at the Briars at the edge of his estate. Hugo, who has no idea where the Briars is, or why it is home to an unknown woman, bids her a frosty good day and departs.
Upon arriving at The Grange, Hugo is appalled to discover that the estate is a mess; there are hardly any servants in the house, the stables are empty, the number of tenants still living on the estate has dwindled to a mere few … things are in a bad way thanks to his late father’s fondness for the race-track, and Hugo realises he’s got his work cut out if he’s to turn things around. His man of business tentatively suggests that perhaps Hugo might consider marriage as a way to solve his financial problems, but Hugo is vehemently opposed to the idea; one ill-fated marriage was enough and he has no intention of embarking upon another.
After their initially awkward meeting, “Mrs. Graham” (yes, it’s Lucinda) and Hugo find themselves drawn to one another and it’s not long before Hugo has enlisted Lucinda’s help in setting his household to rights. He also hopes that perhaps the voluptuous widow will be amenable to doing more for him than helping with the accounts; it’s been some time since he was attracted to a woman, and Lucinda’s Junoesque proportions set his mind to all sorts of naughty imaginings. But as the reader knows, Lucinda is not a widow, so for her, the decision to go to bed with a man other than her husband is very difficult for her. I know that for some readers, adultery is a no-no, regardless of the circumstances, and in that case, this book will likely not suit. Personally, I can deal with it in certain circumstances, and this is one of them; Lucinda’s confidence has been so broken down by Denbigh’s constant insults – he calls her a fat sow more than once – that I found myself cheering her on, especially as she begins to realise that Hugo really does like the lushness of her figure and the way she looks. They become friends as well as lovers, and as Hugo boosts Lucinda’s confidence, showing her true affection and sexual pleasure, so Lucinda gradually draws him out of his solitary existence. But where Hugo opens up to Lucinda as he has never done with anyone else, telling her about his nightmares, his life in the army and his short, tragic marriage, Lucinda, of necessity, remains guarded, wanting to tell Hugo the truth but afraid he will reject her once he knows it.
Successfully writing a romance based on a deception is a difficult thing to do well, but Ms. Lethbridge does manage to pull it off for the most part. As with the adultery issue, it’s not a plotline that will be enjoyed by everybody, but the author does a very good job of developing the relationship between Hugo and Lucinda, showing their growing emotional connection as well as the passion they inspire in one another. Deception apart, Lucinda is a well-drawn, likeable character; unlike some heroines in her situation, she’s sensible enough to have kept some of her money away from her spendthrift husband and clever enough to invest it wisely. I liked that she wasn’t prepared to just roll over and play dead; when enough was enough, she did something about it and got away.
Hugo is perhaps more of a stereotypical wounded – physically and mentally – hero, who beats himself up with guilt over things completely outside his control and whose reasons for not wanting to re-marry induced eye-rolling in this reader. Ultimately, however, he’s a good, decent man and he and Lucinda are a couple I can envisage together long after the last page has delivered their HEA.
I enjoyed the book, but there were issues with the pacing and some other inconsistencies which have knocked my final grade down somewhat. The first few chapters and the last few are exciting and fairly fast paced, the slower portions that show Hugo and Lucinda getting to know each other are nicely done, but there’s a large chunk in the middle that drags and I found myself skimming some parts, eager for progression. There’s some tension created by Lucinda’s fear that Denbigh will come for her… but he doesn’t, and then at the end, there’s an inexplicable volte face from a character who has been set up as a villain.
The Lady Flees Her Lord is a solid, engaging read that, while flawed, nonetheless earns a recommendation for its unusual premise and sensible, warm and loving heroine.