One Unashamed Night, by Sophia James, is a Harlequin historical, first published in 2010. The cover includes the tagline “The Undoing of a Lady,” but this is selling the sizzle. The story open in the English countryside, on a dark and snow stormy night, in 1826.
Lord Taris Wellingham, suffering from failing eyesight, is traveling by public carriage, unaccompanied, both for reasons never satisfactorily explained. Beside him is a stranger, Beatrice-Maude Bassingstoke, and three other passengers sit across: An older woman with her son, and sleeping man. Above the howling wind, Taris hears a wheel coming loose. The carriage flips, killing the sleeping man, injuring the driver, and leaving the old woman and her son near panic. Taris arranges things as best he can to keep the others warm, then sets out with Beatrice to seek help.
Unprepared for travel in a winter storm, they are shivering when they meet men searching for the delayed coach. They direct Taris and Beatrice to a nearby barn for shelter while they attend to the others. At the barn, Taris draws on his military experiences to insist on partial disrobing and huddling together for warmth. He learns that Beatrice is a widow, very thin, yet large breasted, and proposes a one night stand. Beatrice confirms that he is single, and agrees. Notwithstanding the circumstances, they have great sex, something Beatrice never had in twelve years of a miserable marriage and is rather pleased to have discovered, with her husband dead less than a month. But it’s only chapter three, so complications must arise.
James tosses a great many obstacles at her characters, and some stick better than others. They vary from comic (her assumption that he is heavy drinker) to melodramatic (the threats on her life) to questionable and melodramatic (her inability to recognize her own pregnancy), but they keep the story racing along. Along the way both characters have some modest growth. On the whole, Beatrice is a great example of a strong and independent woman, determined to make a life for herself after too many years at the mercy of a demanding husband. It helps that money is no object.
There are a number of flaws in the story. Other readers, more familiar with Regency romances, have questioned polite society’s acceptance of Beatrice. I eventually got tired of hearing how large her breasts were (it’s mentioned at least six times). The passing reference to the exploitive employment that is the source of Beatrice’s wealth is mentioned and forgotten. And the accidental pregnancy subplot was over the top. On the other hand, I appreciate a story where the hero is flawed, the plotting is playful, and sex is present but not overbearing. James writes good dialogue. It’s a pleasure to read, and shows that the characters belong together. Here’s one exchange:
I am a plain woman, my lord.”
“Plain is an adjective that has many different interpretations. A carp in a river can be plain to the eyes of one who does not fish, yet vibrant to an angler. A deer in the forest can look insignificant amidst a band of sun-speckled trees and magnificent away from them. Which plain are you?”
“The type that recognizes the truth despite any amount of flowery rhetoric.
This is one of several books involving the eccentric and heartwarming Wellingham family, I’m looking forward to reading the others, though I suspect they are, like this one, historical romances with a hefty dose of ripping yarn.