Bella returns from overseas with her elderly husband Myron, who has come home to die after 15 years representing England in many foreign lands. The couple are friends of the recently crowned King George IV. Bella is painfully shy, but has learnt to hide her insecurities behind a mask of competence. Myron and the King are worried about how she will cope as an extremely wealthy widow.
Two dukes woo her, both with ulterior motives. One is a rake with a fear of emotional commitment, and one is a fortune hunter who hides some grim secrets behind a charming facade. Bella must cope not only with the vicious tongues of society’s gossips and her own unpleasant memories of England, but also with the determined assault on her senses of two practised seducers.
Royal Regard gripped me from the first. I particularly enjoyed the interchanges between Bella and her dukes – Marianna Gabrielle writes clever, witty, and thoroughly convincing dialogue. As the rake begins to grow up and realise what Bella means to him, the fortune hunter decides to take decisive action. To avoid spoilers, let me just say that I had to put the book down at that point and wait till I could finish it in one sitting, because I could see that Bella had invited a traitor into her house and I was fast approaching the point where I had to know what happened next.
In the last part of the book, Gabrielle – having resolved the external conflict – is able to zero in on the internal conflict. Both the hero and the heroine grew through their experiences and gave me a satisfying ending that totally convinced.
I have one minor quibble, and it may yet prove to be nothing. The heroine’s brother turns up three quarters of the way through the book and stays for 100 pages before disappearing again. He seemed unnecessary to me. On the other hand, he could be good for a sequel. I did want to know what had happened to him in the years he’d been estranged from his sister, and what would happen to him next, which is a credit to Gabrielle’s deft outline of his character.
So I’ll be watching with interest to see where Gabrielle goes next. Meanwhile, Royal Regard goes in my to-be-read-again pile, for books I’ve enjoyed and want to one day revisit.