I was really excited about this book because I can't remember the last time I read a book set in the Restoration period. Ms Westin's debut is a wonderful, adventure with an intelligent and competent heroine and a hero the reader will likely fall in love with. He made the book for me!
In the palace of Charles II in the year 1665, Lady Anne Gascoigne is waiting impatiently for her fiance' Lord Waverby. Lately she has been receiving very improper attention from the King from which her Edward has vowed to protect Anne. But when footsteps approach and the voice of the king - and Edward - are overheard Anne hides herself in an armoire. What Anne overhears shocks her as she hears with her own ears her beloved fiance offering Anne's sexual favors to the king in exchange for lucrative lands in Virginia Colony! Of course Anne flees to her father who devises a plan to hide Anne until he can have the betrothal dissolved. He just hopes he arrives in time!
Sir Samuel Gascoigne is a judge who recently sentenced notorious highwayman "Gentleman Johnny" Gilbert to hang. So when Sir Samuel jumps from his carriage, calling a halt, just as the noose is about to stretch his neck, no one is more surprised than Johnny himself! Sir Samuel spirits John away in his carriage and elicits a vow from John to protect and keep safe his daughter Anne. John agrees and thus begins an adventure that will change both John and Anne forever.
John Gilbert is the son of a duke but born on the "wrong side of the blanket". He was cheated out of his inheritence, Burwell Hall, by his legitimate siblings leaving a bitter taste in John's mouth toward the "gentry". And so he wound up a highwayman in the spirit of Robin Hood. He's a thoroughly charming and handsome rogue and even the haughty Lady Anne is not immune to this cheerful scoundrel. Especially when she learns there is so much more to him than meets the eye.
Anne and John have assorted adventures, calamities and obstacles thrown in their way whilst trying to elude and best Lord Waverby. Along the way, Anne begins to see that those born to the upperclasses are not "better" than those of the lower order and her haughtiness quickly fades to a more egalitarian attitude. She also softens toward the handsome John (who wouldn't?) and he toward her. But can they ever have a future together? Will they live to see it?
And therein lies my only issue with the book. After so many obstacles - plague, abductions, high seas adventure and royal intrigues - I found myself a little tired of them. I just wanted to get to the happily ever after already! And personally, in those sections where John does not appear, the book lost some of it's sparkle. While I liked Anne, I adored John! On a certain level, this book felt more like the old romances of the 70's - those sort of big, epic, stories from authors like Kathleen E Woodiwiss perhaps. I also enjoyed the various and sundry secondary characters like notorious actress Nell Gwynn, royal mistress Lady Barbara Castlemaine and Charles II himself. This era was so lively and colorful (Anne several times describes her time as "modern"!) I can't understand why more authors don't write with this backdrop.
An enjoyable read and I recommend it for the setting and John's character alone. I look forward to her next book Lady Katherne's Wild Ride.