Sunday Spotlight on the Hellions of Haversham

Somehow, I managed to miss this series from one of my favourite authors, Lorraine Heath, until last month, though the third book came out over a year ago, and the little novella that rounds things off was published in March.

I’m so glad I discovered it!

The Hellions are four boys raised at Haversham Hall by a Marquess who is sunk in a grief so deep that the world calls him mad. One is the son whose mother died giving birth to him; three the children of the Marquess’s best friends who died in a train crash.

I say ‘raised’, but for the most part they bring themselves and one another up, reaching adulthood to travel the world and conquer Society, which will forgive them anything for their charm and their tragic pasts.

Each of the three novels tells the story of one of the Hellions.

An unconventionial heiress, a rakish duke

In Falling Into Bed with a Duke, Minerva Dodger is an unconventional heiress whose fortune has been courted but who never expects to be loved for herself decides to attend the Nightingale Club, where women can maintain anonymity while choosing a lover. Spinsterhood is better than a marriage of convenience, but she would like at least one night of passion.

The Duke of Ashebury has one inflexible rule: never more than one night with a woman. He will not risk love, and when he meets Minerva wants nothing more than a photograph of perfection to add to his collection. It will be one more item in the wall of loveliness he builds to keep away the thoughts that haunt him. But he is soon intrigued, and  sets out to find her identity and woo her in earnest.

She has no reason to trust. He has every reason to be afraid. Heath deftly manages the reveal of his secret and Minerva’s hurt and repudiation of her deceitful betrothed without me losing sympathy for either of them. And Ashe’s response is just perfect.

On a side note, Minerva’s father is a delightful character.

The substitute

The Earl Takes All is my favourite of the books, mainly because of the character of the hero. He’s a better man than he realises.

Edward Alcott, twin of the Earl of Greyling, returns from his last adventure with his brother to bring the tragic news of his brother’s death. But to honour the vow he made to his dying brother, he must masquerade as Greyling until his brother’s wife has her baby.

It’s complicated. Edward has been in love with Julia since he kissed her in a dark garden, a kiss she accepted thinking he was Grey. Since that night, Julia has despised Edward, and Edward has acted to widen the breach to keep a distance between them.

Now Julia finds that her husband has changed, and is appealing in an entirely different way. But what will happen when she discovers the truth?

This could all have gone horribly wrong in the hands of a lesser writer. If Edward’s internal decency had not been so well drawn — the conflict between his desires and the differing calls on his honour — I would not have been nearly so invested in the outcome. And I loved Julia, too. A worthy heroine, truly in love with her husband, and capable of loving again, a different man in a different way.

I couldn’t see how this was going to work out. A man cannot marry his brother’s wife; that’s the Anglican rule. But Heath had a surprise up her sleeve, and I couldn’t have been happier.

One of the best marriage of (in)convenience stories I’ve read

The Viscount and the Vixen is about the fourth of the Hellions. Viscount Locksley is never going to fall into the trap of love. He knows that way lies madness, as happened to his father, the Marquess of Marsden.

But when his father advertises for a bride and Portia Gadstone arrives, Locke reads the contract and realises she just might be the answer to his need. She has been guaranteed a marriage. He wants a bride he can feel nothing for: and a fortune hunting vixen prepared to marry an elderly man for his title should be perfect.

But Portia is there out of desperation, not greed, and her secrets may ruin them both.

Portia is a wonderful heroine. I occasionally wanted to shake Locke, but his actions were totally in keeping with his character and the times, and he came through in the end. Another amazing novel to round off a superb series.

Not sorry I read it

When the Marquess Falls is a novella telling the love story of Locke’s mother and father, the doomed Linnie Connor and Marquess of Marsden.

The story is charming. He always follows the rules set by his inflexible mother. She is the baker’s daughter, and therefore completely unsuitable. And I liked both the main characters.

I thought Heath had set herself an enormous challenge in writing a novella for which readers of the series know the end, since we know that Marsden spent most of his lifetime sunk in grief.

I tell you, people, she just about pulls it off. The last three chapters are beautifully evocative. For me, the paranormal elements grate, but that’s me.

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