This collection contains stories by two very well known authors in the Regency genre, Mary Balogh and Mary Jo Putney, and three others with whom I was unfamiliar (Melinda McRae, Anita Mills and Maura Seger).
The first story is "Hide-and-seek" by Melinda McRae and features Miss Juliet Waldron who works as governess and mother to the seven illegitimate children of Viscount Belmont. Although an attractive woman, Belmont has always found that she 'lacks passion' and so hasn't ever considered a dalliance with her - plus he's not sure he could ever replace her as governess as she is so good at the job. Juliet knows, too, that she would struggle to find employment elsewhere because she has a son that she bore out of wedlock. However Juliet has long been in love with Belmont and when she discovers a beautiful gown she decides to attend a masque with him to give herself a Cinderella-like evening. She soon discovers one evening in his company as a desirable woman isn't enough and both she and Belmont find their needs and desires for the future becoming more important.
This was a well-written story with the viscount a surprisingly sympathetic character, despite his rake nature. He is clearly a loving father and cares for his staff although I couldn't quite entirely like him because of his sexual shenanigans. For this reader there was some doubt as to whether he could really commit to monogamy but otherwise this was a very pleasant read.
The second story is "Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know" by Mary Jo Putney and it's set in America rather than England. Andrew Kane is the younger son of an English baronet who's spent ten years in America gambling and generally being restless. However he is now on his way to the hangman's noose after being arrested for murder. When young widow Liza Holden sees him being mistreated she goes to his aid, not realising the chain of events that will be set in place.
The setting of this story was particularly interesting with the rather rough-and-ready justice of the historical period. Both Drew and Liza were good characters, both facing uncertain futures and mourning missed opportunities. It was an easy read and, although there were no great surprises, it was an enjoyable story.
Mary Balogh's story "The Wrong Door" is the third instalment in this book and, like most of her short stories or full length novels, is excellent. It shows what happens when a case of mistaken identity means that a rake is forced to make a marriage proposal. However he is surprised to find his proposal rejected because the young lady, Caroline Astor, refuses to marry without love. They then make a wager that they can make each other fall in love with them in 24 hours and the two spend time together, trying to enchant each other and yet with the freedom to know that they can part the next day if necessary.
This was an excellent story because it showed why a rake might want to reform, how he begins to understand that there is a difference between a female bed partner and a person. Caroline, too, is a sensible woman who understands the risks she is taking but who is also able to see the good in Viscount Lynton. It's an enjoyable read and doesn't feel in any way rushed or lacking despite its short story format.
The fourth story, "Cat's Paw", returns us to America where Irish family the Daugherty are on the breadline. With six brothers and a female cousin all on the verge of starvation, Megan is at her wit's end as to how they can continue. She finds herself rescuing her cousin Maeve from one method of earning money and then decides to go to Maeve's client, Archer Davalos, who's known to be rich. As it happens Archer does have employment he can offer her family - he needs Megan to help him to retrieve some compromising letters his sister wrote to a man. This rather improbably plot device is used for Megan and Archer to spend time together and get to know each other although it wasn't clear how Archer planned to get her into Daniels' house to extract the letters. When she is in danger she finds she can rely on Archer and that there's more to him than a cold, hard businessman.
This was a reasonable story although characterisation felt a little thin and the whole device of Megan being employed to retrieve the letters seemed very unlikely. Still it was interesting to read of the hard lives of some of the Irish immigrants and it was never boring.
The final story, "Highway Robbery" by Anita Mills, is a fast-moving and enjoyable tale of a highwayman destined for the gallows and a young lady trying to rescue her brother from jail. When Nicholas Swann escapes from jail using Anne Hardinge as a hostage she finds her and his story unexpectedly intertwined as she begins to learn his history and of the feud between him and the local Earl. The reason behind this feud is pretty clear to the reader long before Anne works it out but the overall story is enjoyable as she and Swann find themselves helping each other. The setting of the story is interesting and some of the byplay between the characters is good but overall the story felt a little lightweight to me.
In conclusion this is a very decent anthology with different stories set in varied times and places and with an unusual cast of male heroic characters from a serial rake to a highwayman. Read and enjoy!