When I was pitched this book, I was offered a Regency version of Philadelphia Story with a spy twist. Not having seen the Grant/Hepburn vehicle, I had to google the reference. Secret marriage to protect the girl and now she wants out for her “real” marriage that would be appropriate for society? Sold.
I started reading the book and it begins right in the thick of it all. If you have read the previous entries in the Playful Brides series by Valerie Bowman, you’ve met Lady Daphne Swift as she first disappears for two weeks, then is caught trying to sneak out of a ball and finally as a co-conspirator. Getting to read her story is like icing on the cake after reading the previous entries. We had glimpses of her brother, his friends and the couple she helped bring together while not being overwhelmed by their happy lives. It was good to see that Lucy was still causing trouble, Jane was after all the teacakes and Cass was the calming influence on them all.
If you haven’t read the previous entries, this book does work like a bottle episode. While we get glimpses of the couples from the previous novels, none of the actors or their interconnected lives has major roles to play with the unfolding spy work being done by Lady Daphne and her Captain Rafe Cavendish. Lady Daphne is the younger sister of Julian (hero of Accidental Countess) and he served with Captain Cavendish. To be honest, there were times where my first read through were more enjoyable than the second time through after re-reading the previous books in the series. Lady Daphne seems to have gotten significantly more timid and proper at the start of the novel than we saw her in the previous novels. I’d love to know what happened between her trying to sneak out a window (to see the injured Rafe) and the start of this novel to make her want to be so perfectly prim.
What I loved about this book was that we jumped right in. Everyone wants what is best for Daphne, but the only one who is willing to contradict her and point out that what she thinks is best is not what she really wants is Rafe until after the fact. Daphne is sure that she is making the right decision and has a list with rankings to back her up on her selection of a husband, even if he is dull and a social climber that none of her family or friends would willingly seek out for friendship. Everything breaks after a few glasses of champagne and we are tossed into the spy portion of the book.
I will say that this is where it gets a little muddy for me. I understand a slip of a girl in her mid-teens being able to pose as a cabin-boy, but from the descriptions of Daphne, other than her opposite of tall status she has the figure of a girl which might be a little harder to hide when she’s in her breeches role. But assume the role she does and works hard to earn her place with the other men onboard, even convincing Rafe to teach her to throw knives (Chekhov’s skill, anyone?). Rafe keeps her out of the way, using her when the mission calls for her Russian language skills, but otherwise avoiding her to keep his hands off of her. As required in a story like this, the girl he’s sworn to protect has to get in danger at some point – and despite her proving that she can defend herself, Rafe gets her out of harms way as fast as possible. This is where the Daphne we know returns, and convinces Rafe that he needs people and more specifically he needs her.
The push-pull in this book was an interesting one. We have the Big Misunderstanding — Daphne saw a blonde doxy in Rafe’s bed on their previous outing together and firmly believes that she was there for him, despite what he says. We have the heroine masquerading as a boy to have the freedom and adventure she wanted as a girl. We have the non-titled hero who thinks that all the titled folks are worthless snobs unless they served in the war or came at their title from some other way. We have spies to hunt down in France and revenge for a lost brother/associate. We have the hero thinking he can’t have the girl because of guilt and her being too good for him — despite him believing someone who (on paper) is good enough for her is wrong for her. All these elements blend together quite nicely and allow for a lovely story that wraps up quite well, right up into the epilogue, but that’s another’s tale.