St. Martin's, November 2003
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding
The breakup of James Lindford, Viscount Farley's engagement to Lady Catherine Winfield is splashed across the headlines of The London Tattler. Society gossips won't rest until every juicy detail that led to the dissolution of their betrothal contract is hashed and rehashed. It seems Lord Farley had the effrontery to bring his "natural born children," the offspring of his affairs while traveling abroad, into his own household to live.
Lord Farley's notorious escapades have finally caught up with him. He regrets the scandal his actions have caused, but he doesn't apologize for the fact that he plans to acknowledge his children and provide for their welfare. Caught between the scandalous headlines and the resignation of several servants, the family is forced out of London to his country estate. The presence of these two little girls has stirred up quite a ruckus. Clarissa is a wild child and pickpocket, who insists on being called Izzy, and Leya is a dark skinned, colicky infant.
Phoebe Churchill is concerned with finding the means to settle the unpaid taxes on her family home, Plummy Head Farm, following the death of her mother. However, when items begin to disappear around the farm, Phoebe discovers the thief is Lord Farley's daughter Izzy. Phoebe's easygoing handling of his unruly child causes Lord Farley to plead with her to accept the position of governess. This job could be the answer to her financial problems, but would her reputation survive working for such a notorious skirt chaser? What's more, will she be able to resist the philandering heartbreaker?
THE HEARTBREAKER takes the stereotypical Regency rake and gives him his comeuppance. Ms. Becnel has done an interesting job of demonstrating the long reaching effects of philandering on the lives of the popular rakish heroes and fallen women. Without sounding preachy, Ms. Becnel shows rather than tells us the lessons Regency characters have long needed to learn. To his credit, Lord Farley takes responsibility for his children, but this character is no candidate for sainthood. He still has a lot to learn. I applaud Ms. Becnel for tackling the complex themes in this story.
The children in this novel are one of the most entertaining aspects of the story. Izzy's feisty belligerence and fierce loyalty to her sisters total won me over. Izzy, Leya and later little Helen, are much more than window dressing, they are believable and endearing.
The heroine, Phoebe, is caught in a delicate situation and she doesn't always make the wisest choices. Plus, there is one element of this romance readers may find difficult to accept; an obstacle to happiness for Phoebe and James, something that puts any hope for love at risk. Despite a few problems, there were enough good things about this book for me to enjoy. Clever plotting and intriguing characters made me want to search out other titles by this author. There is also a brief reference to the characters from a previous book, THE TROUBLEMAKER, featuring Lord Farley's half sister, Miss Sarah Palmer, and Marshall MacDougal.
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