This entertaining georgian romantic farce is the second of what will presumably be a series of five romances featuring the five brothers and sisters of the Sharpe family of Halstead Hall. The hero of this one is Lord Jarret Sharpe, next brother of Oliver, Marquis of Stoneville. Oliver has been a supporting character in several of the author's previous novels and was the hero of the first book in this series, "The Truth about Lord Stoneville."
The scene for this series was set nineteen years before the main action of the story, when the disastrous marriage of Jarret and Oliver's parents came to a tragic end. Their father, the previous Marquis of Stoneville, had married Prudence Plumtree, daughter of a wealthy brewer, for her money. He hoped to use the dowry she brought from the Plumtree brewery to keep up his vast but expensive house and estate at Halstead Hall, while continuing to live the life of a dissolute noble rake.
Bad mistake. The Plumtree family may be in trade but judging by Hetty Plumtree, the grandmother of the five Sharpe siblings and a major character in the series, they are sharp as a whip, stubborn as a mule, and nearly as proud as the noble Sharpes. They really, really don't make good doormats.
Prudence did not have the complaisant attitude to her husband's infidelity which is found in some parts of the aristocracy: when he cheated on her, she went ballistic. The Sharpe siblings' memories of their parents, particularly those of Oliver the eldest, are of a series of cataclysmic rows.
Finally when Jarret was thirteen, their parents' final row culminates in both their tragic deaths. At the start of the first book the reader was given the impression that there was a murder-suicide in which their mother shot first her husband and then herself. Exactly what really happened is a major plot element in all the books, including this one, so I don't want to give anything further away beyond saying that the tragedy will haunt all the characters throughout the series.
Until the deaths of his parents, young Lord Jarret had been taking a real interest in his maternal grandparents' brewery, and was starting to entertain hopes of taking over the brewery when he grew up. But after the tragedy, his grandmother, who had just taken the reins at the brewery herself when her husband died, found herself responsible for a business, the Halstead Hall estate, and five young grandchildren from 16 year old Oliver to baby Celia. To give Jarret the choices in life which should be his due as the son of a Marquis, she sends him to join his brother at Eton. At first he is terribly bullied there, but then he discovers that even the most rascally of his fellow pupils have nothing but respect for his skill at cards ...
Fast forward 19 years to 1825: the Sharpe siblings have grown up and each has become notorious in his or her own way. Oliver, Marquis of Stonelville, now 35, has become an infamous rake. Jarret, now aged 32, has become possibly the most notorious and skilled gambler in the country. Their sister Minerva, aged 28, writes gothic novels under her real name, which would just about have been possible for a noblewoman in 1825 but would indeed have set tongues wagging.
The third brother Gabriel, (Gabe) aged 26, is another rake and is nicknamed "The Angel of Death" for his skill at dangerous carriage races, while the youngest sibling, Celia aged 24, is fascinated by guns and has become a crack shot - and she in turn is notorious for challenging her friends' brothers to shooting competitions and wiping the floor with them. The family as a group are known by the same name as this series of books: the Hellions of Halstead Hall.
The purse-strings of the family are still held by their maternal grandmother, and at the start of "The Truth about Lord Stoneville," Hetty Plumtree's patience with the five Hellions of Halstead Hall finally snaps. So she gives all five of them an ultimatum: settle down and marry within a year, or she'll cut them off without a penny and leave the brewery to their cousin Desmond.
That's the background to all the books in the series, and each volume covers how one of the five brothers and sisters respond to Hetty's ultimatum.
At the start of this book, Hetty Plumtree has fallen ill, and at a very bad time, because Plumtree Brewery is going through a tough patch due to the collapse of the Russian market. She needs someone she trusts to manage the brewery while she recovers, and agrees to exempt Jarret from her ultimatum if he will do so.
He has scarcely taken over the brewery when Annabel Lake barges into his office. Annabel is a brewster, and her family's business, Lake Ales, has been hit by the same problems with the Russian market as Plumtree Brewery. She has come up with an imaginative proposal for a business partnership between Lake Ales and Plumtree Brewery which she believes will help both breweries weather the storm.
Jarret, trying to act responsibly for the first time in many years, is concerned with the risks involved with the proposal, but Annabel won't take "no" for an answer and, knowing his fondness for gambling, tries to get his attention by offering a wager: Oliver tried to put her off by suggesting outrageous terms, and to his astonishment she accepts them ...
(BTW, I'm giving less away here than the back cover of the book, which I advise you to try not to look at before you read it.)
The author explains in a note at the end of the book that, although the Plumtree and Lake Breweries are fictional, other details of the brewing industry given in the story are based on real historical events, which readers with an interest in history or Ale may appreciate.
This series is nonsense, but it is very entertaining nonsense, and I loved most of the characters, including Hetty, Jarret, Annabel, and Minerva, whose own romance in the next book, "How to woo a reluctant lady" is clearly set up during this one.
The story builds through the five books and if you are going to tackle them I strongly recommend doing so in the correct order, which is:
1) "The Truth About Lord Stoneville (Hellions of Halstead Hall)
" (Oliver's story)
2) This book, "A Hellion in Her Bed" (Jarret)
3) "How to Woo a Reluctant Lady
4) "To Wed a Wild Lord (The Hellions of Halstead Hall)
5) "A Lady Never Surrenders (The Hellions of Halstead Hall)
If you like historical romantic farces set at or slightly later than the Regency period, you will almost certainly enjoy this series.