Squee Hearts: None
The blurb was what interested me in Claudette William's Regency romance, Cherry Ripe. Shauna Elton is being forced into an arranged marriage by her step-mother Lady Elton. Before she can learn Lord Damien Drummond is the intended, Shauna runs away, and she is rescued by none other than Lord Drummond, who has never met or seen his intended either. By a sequence of events, Shauna ends up being the governess to Drummond's half-siblings, twins, a boy and girl Bromley. Good fun, that. Too bad lines like the following occur quite frequently throughout the novel: "Why had he let her get away without bedding her? What had happened?" (Williams 23). Why indeed! Needless to say, such lines don't earn Drummond any points in my book--any good points, that is.
Needless to say, Drummond comes across as a bit of a cad or rake. When he rescues Shauna, he is a little drunk, and he bestows upon her quite a few heated looks and heated kisses; though, given his behavior throughout the novel, I'm not sure the first's condition necessarily predicates the second's behavior. However, his behavior was not entirely deplorable, as Shauna admits: "You were, even in your [. . .] fuzzy state of mind, most gallant, for you did manage to leave me . . . very nearly untouched. I trusted you . . . and you were a gentleman" (Williams 67). Very nearly untouched. How kind of him, and what a resounding endorsement for a testrogenic character. But to give him his due, he did restrain himself while escorting her, and he did go out of his way, even in a drunken state, to take her some miles to her destination. So hints of a gentleman and testrogen do exist in there, but one might need a quizzing glass to the see them.
The problem is that some of his good traits (his familial concerns) are spoken of, not so much shown. The beginning, though, does show some action: he makes the decision to marry a woman he never met because he wants someone to help take care of his half-siblings, someone who would understand their loss of parents. Nice consideration! However, its effect is a little diminished when he comments on her high spirits and how these won't matter because he intends on bringing her "in tow" (Williams 1). This all contrasts to his ungentlemanly qualities, which get quite a bit of face time. He likes to whisper sweet nothings like "perhaps I have regretted leaving you . . . untouched," "I want you, sweetheart. . . . Come upstairs . . . ," and "Shauna . . . there is so much we could have together . . . and I would always see to it that you are protected. You would be under my protection. . . . Do you understand?" (67, 99, 100-1). What an offer! I mean, really, how can one resist? It is, after all, a woman's highest ambition in life to be set up as a mistress to a man intending to make a better marriage elsewhere.
All right, to be fair, one can't quite say his heart is in it--yet. Not till the end. Something a little further south, yes, and speaking of which, Williams deserves a nod and more for this realistic characterization: "He was testy. He wanted her. It was all he prepared to understand at the moment" (Williams 100). After all, she can't be both his mistress and his half-sibs' governess, and to give him credit, he does realize this dilemma once he can get off his single-minded focus. And eventually, he does start feeling love and forgets that Shauna "was a governess, beneath his station" (124), and he does realize he has to take care of the Elton mess before he makes any promises of a future to Shauna.
So, if you have read to this point, you might be wondering why I reviewed this novel when the only thing Drummond has earned is a black mark for intended infidelity (against wife, with his mistress). Well, the saving grace of the novel and review, besides the interesting plot point, came in the form of a peripheral character, Kit Dartford. He is Shauna's lifelong friend, and when he hears of what happened (that she ran away and why), he intends to find her, restore her, and make sure she is not forced into a marriage. He finds her, but he doesn't try to force her home. Instead, he makes himself at home at the Bromley house, and when he learns the identity secrets neither protagonist has yet learned, he tries to find a way to tell her in a way that it won't make everything awkward. Finally, when Shauna is ready to hatch her plot to force Drummond into proposing (how nice of her!), he reveals he had a vehicle waiting all this time to carry her away when she was ready. He's a good guy and not woman-crazy. He helps her out not because he loves or lusts after her, but because he cares about her and wants to do the right thing by her (for if she stays away much longer, society will get wind of the scandal and she will lose her reputation and more). But just like Drummond's good traits don't have enough face time, neither does Kit's screen time amount to enough to earn him any marks. But he does get an honorable mention. And yet, he's the main reason why I decided to post this review of Cherry Ripe anyway.
Cites: Williams, Claudette. Cherry Ripe. New York: Fawcett Crest, 1988. Print.