Chasing the Heiress is a 2016 historical romance from Rachel Miles. This is from Zebra books, specifically their Shout Fresh New Romance line. Not sure what that all means. The story is in a series called Muses Salon, but in this book the titular salon is just an idea occasionally mentioned.
It’s been a while since I read in a book in a day, but the pace of this one is relentless. Lady Arabella has escaped her evil cousin, and is slowly travelling to a contact in London, carrying some papers that should resolve matters. She’s currently hiding as a kitchen maid at a country inn.
Colin, gentleman and war veteran, is on a government mission, escorting a pregnant foreign princess to London, when his carriage is attacked, and both he and princess are shot. They arrive at Arabella’s inn, and she tends to his wounds, drawing on her experiences treating wounded soldiers.
He hires her to be his nurse, a mutually satisfactory arrangement, and she takes some romantic advantage of the freedoms of anonymity. Colin needs to protect the infant from unknown assailants, and this requires her assistance during some time in hiding, in exchange for him later escorting Arabella to London, via his estate. They both have enemies, and nowhere is safe.
During Colin’s convalescence, one of the books she reads to him is The Castle of Otranto, which foreshadows a turn towards Gothic. A romantic rival is also introduced. The couple’s love is established early, but whether they will survive, let alone be able to marry, is constantly in peril.
Though well written and well paced, the abrupt ending left me wondering if there were some pages missing. Arabella is strong, independent, smart, and has multiple skills. Yes, Colin rescues her more than one, but she saves him as often or more. However, sometimes it seems like there is nothing she cannot do. She and several other characters have relatively modern attitudes towards sex, gender roles, class divisions, health care, and so on. This makes the characters likeable and sympathetic, but I’m not sure how realistic it is. On the other hand, she does make one very foolish mistake, so she’s not perfect, and Colin and his family know right away that Arabella is no maid, which reflects their upper class prejudices about how a maid thinks and acts. Miles has done her research – the book is packed with period details, and some insights into less pleasant aspects of life at that time.
The suspense is great, the romance is great, and the historical setting is somewhere between good and great, but the late introduction of the romantic rival subplot and the weakness of the ending (compared to the rest of the story) pull my overall appreciation down a bit. If I hadn’t stayed up late, and then lingered in bed the next morning to see how it all turned out, I might have felt better about the ending (and kudos for storytelling that meant I had to keep reading). Enough of the series arc is introduced to whet my curiosity without distracting from this story, and I want to read a least one more to see if lightening can strike twice.