I'm realizing, much to my surprise, that I really enjoy historical romances ... especially when they are as well written, witty, sexy and touching as Loretta Chase's Miss Wonderful.
The lovers in this novel had me from its very first pages. Alistair Carsington, third son of an earl, must either find a suitable occupation or a rich heiress to marry if he is to avoid becoming a constant drain on the family finances. Hailed as a hero after his return home from Waterloo, he cannot remember the carnage of battle or the brave acts he is supposed to have performed.
In his father's eyes, however, Alistair is a wastrel and a waste. Before Waterloo, he constantly needed to be extricated from disastrous romantic entanglements, and after the battle, he has run up astronomical tailor's bills. Alistair's attention to his clothing has become his means of coping with a permanent limp after suffering severe war wounds, as well as the emotional trauma of having nearly died face down in the mud and blood, with corpses piled on top of him.
Alistair forms a partnership with his best friend, Lord Gordmor, to construct a canal in rural Derbyshire that will transport coal from Gordmor's mines. He encounters immediate opposition from Mirabel Oldridge, who has managed her father's estate for more than a decade. The canal must run across the Oldridge's land, but Mirabel will not have it; she has worked too hard and given up too much to let the estate's beauty be spoiled.
Years ago, Mirabel chose rescuing the estate from an unscrupulous overseer over marrying the love of her life and traveling to Europe with him. Practical and resourceful, she has done a man's work for so long, she has forgotten what it is like to be a woman, or to be in love. Her clothing and hairstyle are so shockingly unfashionable, it drives Alistair to distraction. (In one of the book's funniest scenes, Mirabel comes to dinner dressed so badly, Alistair cannot focus on the arguments he is making in favor of the canal.)
Despite their differences, they fall in love, but their opposition over the canal is not so easily solved. Alistair strives to find a solution, anxious to prove his worth both to Mirabel and his father, while at the same time dealing with vivid nightmares that bring the horrors of Waterloo back at the most inopportune of times. Mirabel discovers the warm, sensual woman she has locked inside herself for so long and must decide what is most important to her: her cherished family estate or a second chance at love.
Loretta Chase wove humor and sparkling wit throughout her story to lighten the somber mood. She also turned romantic cliches on their heads by allowing Mirabel to be the aggressor in some of the novel's sexy, tender love scenes. (Mirabel even climbs a ladder and through a window to reach her beloved's bedchamber, and the seduction scene that follows is laugh-out-loud funny.)
My only quibbles with the novel were the plot dragged in spots, and Chase sometimes took too long to reveal important information about the characters. The book also was marred by the late, somewhat awkward appearance of a villain and a kidnapping. But I enjoyed the story so much, I was willing to overlook these flaws. I will certainly read more of Chase's books, including the rest of the novels featuring the Carsington brothers. My grade: B+