The longer I live in the Midwest, the more I realize that the weather here is really, really strange. I’ve had some native Midwesterners inform me that the “mild” summers make up for the long, hard winters. I think those people are nuts. Now, I know you’re thinking that no true southern belle would call someone nuts, and you’d be right, that’s just plain rude. However, it’s certainly better than calling him or her an out-and-out liar. First, I’ve yet to actually experience one of these so-called mild summers. It’s pretty darn hot and humid, plus the winter lasts from November until May. How could 3 months of hot and humid make up for 7 months of freezing your buns off? My answer – it DOESN’T! And believe me, when you’re out walking the dog when it’s below 10 degrees, there is no such thing as matching your accessories. You wear the biggest arctic parka you can find and hope no one recognizes the dog at the end of the leash and realizes that you, southern belle that you are, are the one at the other end clutching the steaming bag-o-poop in your mittens. And while it is thankfully no longer winter here, today was just another example of strange weather in the Midwest. The high only got to the mid-60s, which was quite pleasant, but too cold for this native southerner to expose her pasty white legs in shorts. And yet just two days ago, it was 90 degrees. 90 DEGREES!!! Frankly, at times the weather here stinks on ice, and to add insult to injury, you must walk on said ice 3 months out of the year.
So it should be no surprise that in the winter I like to snuggle under my electric blanket (cranked up to cremate) and read sizzling romance novels. Mmmmmm, toasty! In the summer, I prefer to sit out by the pool or beach to read those romances, but my genetics have blessed me with the aforementioned pasty white legs, which are attached to equally white arms and face, so sitting outside requires bathing in sunblock. Thus I have to enjoy my sizzling hot regency romances from the comfort of my UVA/UVB protected, air-conditioned home.
Over the last week or so, I’ve read several lovely regency romances from the comfort of my climate controlled home, but I’ve decided that today I’m going to focus on Madeline Hunter’s Provocative in Pearls. A few chapters into this book, I did NOT like the hero, the Earl of Hawkeswell, but I enjoyed the writing and wanted to see the heroine, Verity Thompson, give his lordship the heave-ho, so I stuck with the book. I’m really glad I did, because Ms. Hunter managed to resolve the conflict between hero and heroine in a way that was believable and fun to read.
Provocative in Pearls is the second novel in Ms. Hunter’s The Rarest Bloom series, which I have been reading completely out of order, thanks to the odd collection of my public library. I hadn’t read the first book in the series, Ravishing in Red, but this novel picks up where the first left off without confusing the reader about backstory or the other characters. In Provocative in Pearls the Earl of Hawkeswell is very badly off financially. Two years prior to the beginning of the novel, he married an heiress, Verity Thompson, who ran off immediately following the ceremony. She’s been missing and presumed dead for those two years, but she can’t be declared dead yet, which means the impoverished Earl can’t claim the money he needs to support his tenants. It just so happens that as the novel begins, the Earl is traveling with his friend Summerhays (the hero of the first novel) to collect Summerhays’ wife Lady Audrianna at the Rarest Blooms, the home and flower shop where his wife is visiting friends. Upon their arrival, Hawkeswell recognizes one of Lady Audrianna’s friends as none other than his missing wife, Verity. He declares that she must go with him and resume married life.
The reason I really disliked Hawkeswell in the first third or so of the novel is his stubborn insistence on reminding Verity that as his wife, she has no legal rights. He tells her over and over again that she must go with him and do as he says. Historically, this is indeed accurate, but it doesn’t make him popular with either his wife or this reader. I for one pretty much wanted to kick him in his tightly fitted breaches. We learn that Verity was tricked into the marriage by her manipulating cousin Bertram, and she believes that the Earl was involved in the plot to marry her off from the beginning. His behavior certainly seems to imply this to her, even though it’s clear to the reader from the beginning that such is not the case.
I was impressed with Ms. Hunter’s ability to bring me around to Hawkeswell’s side. From the beginning we sympathize with Verity, particularly since she isn’t a foolish young girl who abandoned her husband for no reason. Her father had left her with majority control of his iron works, and she’s spent the last two years in hiding until she reaches her majority so she can legally protect the workers from her cousin. There is a mystery surrounding the iron works, disappearing men, and possible worker uprisings that take place in the latter part of the novel, and as Hawkeswell’s wife, she realizes that she has relinquished legal control of her inheritance and very likely any possibility of helping those she considers friends. Ms. Hunter very cleverly develops this mystery alongside the Earl and Verity’s growing relationship. As they grow to trust one another, Verity realizes that the Earl will protect her from her cousin while helping her to settle matters at the iron works. Because their relationship gradually changes and the Earl’s character is revealed to be trustworthy, the romance is a pleasure to read.
I only have two complaints about the novel. The first is that early in their relationship, the Earl uses Verity’s passion to attempt to convince her not to annul their marriage. I really hate it when authors have a hero “use” a heroine’s passion against her to prove his point. To me all he proves is that he’s a smug, controlling jerk. The second complaint is that the very end of the novel seems a bit rushed. To go into too much detail would involve giving away the ending, but at the end of one chapter Hawkeswell and his friends are on a boat, searching for a missing man, and then the next chapter skips over all that happened after that point and has them returning to The Rarest Blooms to pick up their wives. It was a bit jarring, especially since the novel was so well written to that point.
Despite that, I highly recommend this novel for poolside reading! Hopefully you can enjoy reading it somewhere away from those weather nuts who inform you that “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”, or “it’s a dry heat,” or “we need the flooding because we’re having a drought.” Just remember, it’s RUDE to tell those people that they’re nuts. Let them find out from a blog like the rest of us.