Not Always a Saint
By Mary Jo Putney
Since the death of his betrothed a few weeks before their wedding, Daniel has given no thought to marriage, but he decides to look for a wife while he is in London, preferably one with sufficient knowledge of estate management to leave Daniel free to treat the sick. He seeks a mature bride who is not too fond of London society, and he is emphatic that she be “reasonably attractive but not beautiful because beauties require too much attention.” But his requirements are forgotten in an instant when he sees the beautiful Black Widow, Jessie Kelham: “She radiated mystery, sensuality—and danger. She looked like original sin—and he craved that promise of reckless passion as intensely as Adam had craved Eve’s apple.”
Daniel fails to recognize Jessie as the battered woman he had treated in his Bristol clinic several years earlier, but Jessie knows immediately that he is the doctor who helped her when she was at her most desperate. It was thanks to the aid that Daniel and Laurel gave her that Jessie was able to flee Bristol and create a new life for herself. Eventually she married Philip, Baron Kelham, and found in her marriage to the much older Kelham a happiness and security she had never before known. But Kelham’s recent death left Jessie vulnerable once again. Frederick, Kelham’s nephew, furious that the title and entailed property he expected to inherit, through an ancient barony of writ recently uncovered, instead has gone to his uncle’s four-year-old daughter, threatens to sue for guardianship of Beth, claiming that Jessie as a former actress is unfit to bring up her daughter.. Kelham’s lawyer advises Jessie to remarry a husband with reputation and influence enough to ensure that the court will rule in Jessie’s favor if Frederick follows through with his threat.
Like Daniel, Jessie is in London to find a spouse. Like Daniel, she has definite qualities in mind. She wants an older husband who possesses the kindness and wisdom she found in Philip. Twice betrayed by youthful passion, she is particularly wary of men of her generation for whom she feels a strong attraction. Daniel is unsuitable for these reasons, but he is even more unsuitable because if he remembers her from their earlier meeting, he can link Jessie to the life she fled and memories that still fill her with terror.
She refuses Daniel at first, but when the two are discovered in a compromising situation, marriage to Daniel offers the only way to avoid a scandal that would benefit the vicious Frederick. Just as happiness seems within the reach of this deserving pair, danger from an unexpected source menaces their future.
This is a book I have eagerly awaited since I turned the final page of Not Quite a Wife, and I am happy to report that it exceeded my expectations. Putney has indicated in the past that she finds the alpha/beta tags unsatisfactory, preferring to describe her heroes as “warrior poets.” Nevertheless, I suspect most readers will see Daniel as a beta hero. Regardless of labels, he is a rare hero, complex and likeable with a strong sense of honor, a compassionate heart, and a clear vocation in the fullest sense of that word. He is a good and decent man, but he is a far cry from the stereotypical pallid saint. He is a fully dimensional character with fears and regrets and as much passion as piety.
Having fallen for Daniel in Laurel and Kirkland’s book, I was particularly interested to see what kind of heroine Putney would give him. Jessie is as unusual in her way as Daniel is in his. A beautiful woman whose beauty for most of her life has led to abuse and exploitation, she has little sense of her own worth. Despite having been a victim, she has developed surprising strength and is fierce in her determination to protect her daughter. Beginning with some of her earliest books, Putney has integrated social issues into her stories in interesting and realistic ways. She does so once again in this book by using Jessie’s situation to show how vulnerable women were physically, psychologically, and legally in a world that saw them as the property of males.
If you like historical romance that combines character-driven stories with intense action and historical accuracy, I highly recommend this book. I never miss an MJP book, and I loved seeing characters from earlier Lost Lords books appear in this one. I was especially pleased to see Lady Agnes again. (I’d love to know more of her history.) But I think Not Always a Saint can be read as a standalone, although reading it after at least Not Quite a Wife likely provides a richer reading experience.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the Lost Lords series and was sorry to learn that this book, the seventh Lost Lords book, marks the official end of the series. However, I am delighted that MJP’s new series, Rogues Redeemed, is a spinoff from the Lost Lords. Will Masterson, half-brother of Damian Mackenzie (hero of Nowhere Near Respectable, Lost Lords #3) will be the hero of Once a Soldier, the first book in the new series. Look for it in 2016. For readers like me who are intrigued by Gordon, Lady Agnes’s one failure and a minor but significant character in Not Always a Saint, I have it on the best authority that we will see more of him in the new series. The first book is not yet available for pre-order, but I’m already hooked on the series.