Sabrina Jeffries was among the first romance writers I ever read, so a new book is always welcome. The Bachelor is second in the “Duke Dynasty” series, following Project Duchess. While it isn’t a cross-class romance because both hero Major Joshua Wolfe and heroine Lady Gwyn Drake are aristocratic, Joshua, as a third son, is poverty-stricken compared to Gwyn’s heiress-status. Blue blood, however, throws them together. Joshua, injured and at half-pay from the Royal Marines, acts as the Drakes’ Lincolnshire estate’s, Armitage Hall’s, gameskeeper. They are also connected by marriage: Joshua’s sister, Beatrice, is married to Gwyn’s half-brother, the Duke of Greycourt. When the romance opens, Gwyn is dealing with a blackmailing villain from her past, former-Captain Lionel Malet. Gwyn and Malet had an affair ten years ago, when Malet took advantage of her innocence and made promises he did not intend to keep. Now, he’d like a piece of her dowry in exchange for not ruining her reputation.
With her imminent presentation at court and social début, at the ripe old age of 30, Gwyn wants to protect herself and family from ignominy. When Joshua witnesses Gwyn’s meeting with Malet, he mistakes it for an attempted kidnapping. He goes straight to Gwyn’s twin, Marlow Drake, who asks Joshua to accompany Gwyn and their mother to London as bodyguard. What is an incipient attraction in Lincolnshire, with proximity, blossoms and flourishes between Gwyn and Joshua in London.
Our hero and heroine are likeable characters: Gwyn is funny, down-to-earth, and quick-witted. Joshua is honourable, also quite funny, and carries off his grump with endearing care and affection despite his pseudo-frowns. With Gwyn and Joshua in their 30s, and having experienced sufficient heartache (in Gwyn’s case, romantic; in Joshua’s, professional), there’s depth and poignancy to their characterization. As long as Joshua and Gwyn are in the room and bantering their way to love and commitment, the romance is engaging and heartwarming. However, in the second half, plot takes over big-time. If you’re a plot-lover, especially of the damsel-in-danger and suspense variety, you’re going to enjoy the romance’s turn. If you’re not, unless it’s coupled with continued character development as the primary focus, you’re not. I didn’t enjoy the second half as much as I did the first: the Malet plot went on too long, it was embroiled with England’s national interest intrigue, and, as a result of unfounded mistrust on both sides, it left Gwyn and Joshua keeping secrets and becoming unreasonably suspicious of each other.
A pleasant enough read, a delightful one in the first half, but not a romance that rocked my world. With Miss Austen, we deem The Bachelor, “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Sabrina Jeffries’s The Bachelor is published by Zebra Books, a division of Kensington Books. It was released in February and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley, from Zebra Books, via Netgalley.