The major must wed
Wastrel, rebel, layabout…just a few of the names Lord Becconsall has hidden his quick intellect and sharp wit behind over the years. Recently titled, ex-military and required to wed, Jack views ton ladies with a cynical eye… Until he falls upon–quite literally–Lady Harriet Inskip.
After years of being overlooked, Harriet cannot believe that Lord Becconsall is the only person to truly see her. But between his taunts and her fiery disposition, it’s soon clear that the major has finally met his match!
Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin/Mills & Boon Historical, September 2017
Time and Setting: London, 1816
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars
Review by Caz
The Major Meets His Match is the first in a new, three-book series from Annie Burrows entitled Brides for Bachelors. The bachelors in question are gentlemen who have been friends since their schooldays, but who were separated when they went off to war and have just recently reunited. They are discovering that picking up their friendship where they left off isn’t going to be easy; they’re different people now, and it’s going to take a bit of work and understanding if they are to forge their former bond anew.
Jack Hesketh, Viscount Becconsall, is a third son who never thought to inherit and who is well aware that his father favoured his elder brothers and regarded him as the runt of the litter. He was never expected to amount to much, and when, at school, he was threatened by bullies because of his – then – small stature, he avoided too many drubbings by playing the fool and making the bullies laugh so that eventually they forgot why he had been their target. He has carried this tendency with him into adulthood; even though he is now a decorated military officer – a Major – he still hides his quick mind, sharp wit and true emotions behind a wall of teasing and joking, sometimes so successfully that even his closest friends find it easy to forget that his quips and jests are a cover.
It’s this automatic reaction that lands him in trouble when, after a reunion turned into an all-night carouse that has lasted until morning, Jack makes a wager that he can ride the Marquess of Rawcliffe’s prize stallion through Hyde Park while drunk without falling off. He is barrelling through the park when he startles another rider, a young woman, who, believing his horse has bolted, tries her best to stop it. Jack comes a-cropper, the young woman dismounts to ascertain if he is injured and Jack, deciding to take advantage of their relative positions, pulls her on top of him and kisses her soundly.
Lady Harriet Inskip is taking part in the Season under the auspices of her Aunt Susan, who would have a fit if she knew her niece was out riding in the park alone at such an early hour. But Harriet needed to shake off the restrictions of society for just a little while and a swift gallop was just the thing – although she hadn’t expected another rider to come bursting from the trees at full pelt. Harriet is simultaneously concerned for his safety and irritated by his idiocy and disregard for the safety of others – but nevertheless, she does what she can to calm the runaway horse and then, in spite of the voice in her head telling her to fetch help, to see to its rider.
The last thing she expects is to find herself being kissed… and worse, enjoying it. But the interlude ends quickly when the unknown rider’s friends make an appearance, and Harriet, indignant and furious, hurries away.
One of Jack’s friends – the haughty Marquess of Rawcliffe – opines that the young woman lying on top of Jack must have been a lightskirt, but Jack protests to the contrary and also realises that not only had she felt right in his arms, he’d liked her spirit and enjoyed their brief verbal fencing match. He wants to see her again, but can’t possibly admit that outright to his friends, so retreating to his default of joking to hide his real feelings, Jack makes a wager with Rawcliffe; whoever can locate the young lady and determine whether she is an innocent or otherwise will win their bet.
The story follows the course of Jack and Harriet’s relationship as they meet at society balls and outings and continue to strike sparks off each other. At first, Jack assumes that Harriet’s forthright, often prickly manner is designed to put off potential suitors, but eventually realises that it’s her defence mechanism. Nobody has ever taken much notice or care of her and her instinctive reaction whenever Jack says something complementary is to view it with suspicion and shrug it off or respond with a tart comment. Yet as they come to know each other, they begin to realise that they have more in common than they thought. Both Jack and Harriet have been discounted and often ignored by those who should have shown them love and affection and have learned to hide their hurt and self-doubt – in Jack’s case, behind joking good humour and in Harriet’s behind sharp-tongued put-downs and a façade of indifference. It’s going to take an act of courage on both their parts to drop their guards and admit the depth of their feelings for each other.
The romance that develops between Jack and Harriet is laced with wit, tenderness, charm and a nice simmer of sexual tension as they trade barbs while coming to a greater awareness of each other. The central characters are strongly characterised and I particularly appreciated the depiction of Harriet as an intelligent woman who isn’t afraid to express her opinions, but who also recognises that there are some rules she needs to follow. Ms. Burrows does a very good job of depicting the complicated relationship Harriet has with her mother and her dawning appreciation of what her aunt – whom she had initially regarded as trying to stifle her with convention – is trying to do for her by sponsoring her Season. This appreciation leads to the introduction of a sub-plot regarding some stolen rubies which I found rather insipid, but which, as it is not concluded here, I’m assuming is going to run through the rest of the series.
Jack and his friends – who still call each other by the nicknames drawn from Greek mythology they used at school – are well-drawn also, as is their friendship which, they discover, needs to be worked on given the changes they have all gone through. The marquess – aka Zeus – seems to be cold and unfeeling, but in an unguarded moment, lets something slip that tells Jack that there is more going on beneath his hard exterior than he would have others believe. Then there’s Atlas – Captain Bretherton – a naval officer who has returned from war almost literally a shadow of his former self, a man broken in body and spirit, who seems to be drifting through life without a purpose. Both are intriguing secondary characters here, and I’m looking forward to reading their stories in due course.
My reservations about the plotline concerning the rubies aside, I enjoyed The Major Meets His Match. If you’re looking for a warm, humorous and emotionally satisfying historical romance, you could do worse than give this one a try.