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Corsair Kate is a legend in the maritime world, who has taken numerous ships as prizes in her career as captain of the Possession. Now she is returning to England, prepared to defend and protect her heritage and her title as Countess of Dunscore from her conniving cousin and his accomplice, Nicholas Warre, Baron Taggart. En route to England, they find a man floating on a piece of debris, a survivor from some shipwreck and Katherine gives the orders to pull him in.
What Katherine doesn't know is that it isn't just an ordinary man that she has saved, it is James Warre, Captain of Henry's Cross and the man responsible for sinking the Merry Sea that led to her capture by the Barbary pirates twelve years ago. But James knows who Katherine Kinloch is and decides to keep his identity a secret: fearing what dire measures the captain might take if she knew his true identity.
But secrets never stay secret for very long, especially on a small ship with a small crew -- there is anger, which was expected but also a spark of attraction, which was unexpected. Katherine had never thought she would face the man responsible for her captivity -- but that is not the extent of her problems: the bigger problem waited for her in England and she must utilise all available resources if she is to keep her title, her lands and her heritage safe.
Like the waters that both captains navigate, Katherine and James have two layers: the calm, confident, unruffled surfaces and, below that, the tormented, conflicted undercurrents that quietly drive their lives. That incident so many years ago left a festering wound in both our hero and heroine's psyche and they have tried valiantly to heal it. Katherine's skill and fame grew with each ship she captured. She is fearsome and undefeated with a cutlass but there remains a part of Katherine that doubts, questions and worries for herself, her daughter, Anne, and their future.
I found her to be an irascible, stubborn character and twitched a bit when I read her encounters with Miss Bunsby, formerly of her cousin's employ and who is clearly just looking out for Anne's best interest. I was conflicted about Katherine when she arrived in England, especially how she turned a deaf ear to her daughter's complaints about the smell, and the feel of the city -- and I kept swinging from admiring her and hating her as she weathered through the treacherous waters of London society. Her cutlass defined Katherine and she clung to it like a security blanket -- I wish she had let go of it in the end to signify her growth and development but, I guess, it is an integral/essential part of her identity now. The first problem that faces Katherine is beyond her control but the second problem, concerning her marriage and her denial of her feelings for James was a bit frustrating. Couldn't she see how right they were for each other? Couldn't she see how well James cared for and loved Anne?
Katherine and James are world-weary travellers and are eager for home, but, where is home? For Katherine, Dunscore was a lifetime ago but she has dreamed of a stable and safe place for her daughter and for herself. All James wants is to drink some cognac and read a book by his fireplace. He's had enough adventure to last him the rest of his life and he was more than happy to assume his role as Lord Croston. People celebrate him as a hero but James is especially haunted by the mistake he made and the unforgivable transgression he made against Katherine. Now he has a chance to make amends and I really love how determined and focused James is as he tries to quash the Bill of Pains and Penalties that his own brother has raised against Katherine.
Of the two main characters, I thought James was more complex and more interesting: caught between family and duty, caught between desire and self-preservation, caught between the storm and the calm -- it is a situation that would break most men, but I thought James made very good decisions throughout the story. He is not only a gentleman 'til midnight (as the title suggests) but a gentleman through and through.
What moves this story forward is the problem Katherine faces when she reaches England: she must defend her childhood home against a usurper -- but she cannot rely on blood or merit because of her gender. It is a painful realisation of how little power and say women had in the past -- but Katherine and her friends have defied convention and broken molds to become the women that they are.
"I am not on trial," she whispered sharply, pulling from his grasp.
"On the contrary," he said. "Every word that falls from your lips will be entered as evidence in the court of society's opinion." He gave her a look. "As well as every chair and footstool you pitch into the street."
- loc 1709
I think this is Alison DeLaine's strongest point: she has created a group of amazingly strong women. I loved Phil, Millie, and India (and Honoria, when they finally meet her in England) and the reason why I would recommend this book to fellow romance readers. Throughout the story, DeLaine hints that exciting adventures that await India, Phil and Millie -- their personalities are well-defined and each one has a unique voice and story to tell.
"I am the daughter of an earl, and still a virgin, and my chaperone has been ever with me," she said. "I am not ruined -- just well traveled."
- India, loc 230
Weighing the plusses and minuses of this book, this book tips towards the positive and I will definitely be reading the next instalment in the series.
A Gentleman 'Til Midnight is the debut novel of Alison DeLaine and will be released on December 31. She previously published a novella together with Stephanie Laurens in the The Trouble with Virtue anthology. To find out more about Alison DeLaine and her books, click below:
Disclosure: I received this ARC via Netgalley. Thank you to Harlequin HQN and Alison DeLaine for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.