Every girl dreams of being Cinderella, swept away from drudgery into a life of luxury and comfort. How delightful it is to see stories that take the opposite tack, yanking heroines from their safe, secure bubbles and throwing them out into the real world to see if they’re able to survive—and maybe even thrive. There’s a strange sort of freedom in leaving behind everything you’ve known and finding a fresh start, and that’s exactly what makes these heroines and their delightful stories so compelling.
A LONDON SANCTUARY
Delilah, the utterly charming heroine of Julie Anne Long’s Lady Derring Takes a Lover, lost everything with the death of her husband—her belongings (repossessed by the creditors of her spendthrift husband); her home (entailed to a distant relative); her staff (poached by other society matrons); and her last shred of interest in behaving like a proper lady. Instead of seeking to marry again, or throwing herself on the mercy of relatives, Delilah takes the one piece of property her husband actually owned outright and, with the help of her late husband’s mistress who becomes her new best friend, she turns it into a boardinghouse: The Grand Palace on the Thames. Yes, it’s in the middle of a wretched neighborhood. Yes, they have no idea how to run a business. Yes, they get strange looks when they insist on running the place along very particular terms (including a strict curfew and a swear jar in the sitting room), but it’s still everything Delilah ever wanted. It’s hers. It’s a place where she feels safe. And it offers her a life where she’ll never have to depend on a man again.
But then Captain Tristan Hardy arrives.
After clawing his way out of the London slums and into a position of honor and esteem in His Majesty’s Navy, Tristan has learned to put nothing and no one ahead of duty. When his investigation into a smuggling ring leads him to the boardinghouse, he intends to keep his eyes open and his emotions detached. But who could be detached in the face of The Grand Palace’s cozy furnishings, quirky guests and beautiful hostesses? The interludes of sensuality and passion between Delilah and Tristan are rich and vivid, but no less engaging is the sheer pleasure they take in learning about each other—and surprising each other. Long’s wit is sharp, clever and hilariously effective, but it’s the warmth and gentleness of Lady Derring that make every page of the story a lovely place to visit—precisely the sort of safe haven Delilah would have wanted.
HOME ON THE RANGE
By contrast, Amy Sandas’s heroine in The Cowboy’s Honor, Boston heiress Courtney Adams, leaves her safe, secure life behind in a full-blown run when she heads out west. When she accidentally receives a letter proving that her fiancé has been unfaithful, Courtney realizes that her meticulously arranged marriage is a mistake. She makes a wild bid for freedom by trading her bridal jewelry for a ticket and fleeing—still in her wedding gown—to the Montana Territory. She couldn’t have known that her sudden arrival and excessively bridal attire would send the wrong message to gruff rancher Dean Lawton, whose brother has been threatening to acquire him a mail-order bride.
Misunderstandings accidentally lead to matrimony and the situation only worsens when the local judge refuses to grant an annulment until they’ve given the marriage one month’s “fair trial.” One minute seems to be longer than they can spend together before barbs start flying, but the heat they generate turns just as quickly to desire. They rub each other the wrong way . . . and the right way . . . and pretty much every imaginable way as they stumble together in spite of themselves. Gradually, Dean comes to appreciate Courtney’s relentless optimism, her refusal to back down from a challenge and her delight in learning or discovering something new. And Courtney comes to value Dean’s dedication, integrity and strength. It’s lovely to see them grow together as they move forward into the people they were always meant to be—and discover that their mistaken marriage was a perfect match after all.