Harriet Pomeroy is the daughter of the late minister of the quaint seaside town of Upper Biddleton, but since no one has seen fit to replace him, she still lives in the rector's house with her aunt and sister. She's nearly an on-the-shelf spinster, because unlike most young women her age, she's far more interested in hunting for fossils than in balls and parties. When she discovers that a band of thieves are using her beloved beachside caves as a hiding place for their loot, she needs someone who can rout the scoundrels, so that she can get back to the business of fossil hunting before someone else beats her to them. To that end, Harriet summons Gideon Westbrook, Viscount St. Justin, to her aid. Upon meeting him, she finds him quite attractive but a bit too autocratic for her taste. However, as he lends his help investigating her problem, one night they find themselves trapped in the caves when the tide comes in. Since she has no real designs on marriage, Harriet can't resist the temptation of tasting the pleasures of the flesh just once, but despite now being compromised, she never expected Gideon to offer for her hand.
When Gideon heeds Harriet's summons, he can't help thinking that the last thing he needs is another rector's daughter causing him trouble. Ever since a drunken duel left him with a nasty scar on his face, the ladies have generally steered clear of him. Six years earlier, though, he fell for the previous minister's daughter and asked for her hand in marriage. After things went terribly wrong, he called off their engagement, leading to her subsequent suicide, and for the sins of the past and his scarred face, Gideon is now dubbed the Beast of Blackthorne Hall by nearly everyone who knows him. Tired of trying to defend himself, he no longer cares what others think of him, so he behaves as outrageously as he chooses. But underneath it all, the loss of his honor is something he's never gotten past. That's why, after spending the night in the cave with Harriet, he must do right by her, but he's surprised to find that his new wife not only believes in his innocence, but also defends him to anyone who dares speak ill of him. But when their investigation into the thieves takes an unexpected turn, Harriett's life may be in danger, and Gideon won't hesitate to do whatever's necessary to save the one woman he's come to realize he cannot live without.
Ravished has been on my TBR pile for quite a while. It ended up being my very first read by the prolific and much-loved Amanda Quick (aka Jayne Ann Krentz, Jayne Castle, et. al.). Overall, I very much enjoyed this tale that has a Beauty and the Beast theme. It's light and witty, while also expressing some deeper emotions, particularly for our hero who's been through quite a lot. It also contains a couple of light mysteries surrounding exactly what happened six years earlier when the hero called off his engagement and became known as the Beast of Blackthorne Hall, as well as the identity of the leader of a band of thieves who are leaving stolen loot in the cliff-side caves frequented by our fossil-hunting heroine. There was a lot going on to hold my attention in this story that travels from the provincial charm of the seaside town of Upper Biddleton to the glitz and glitter of the ton in London. Other than a few minor flaws, which I'll get to shortly, I found it to be a great story that was sweet, enchanting, and full of heart.
Harriet is the daughter of the former rector of Upper Biddleton. Both he and her mother passed away, so she lives with her younger sister and a widowed aunt. At twenty-five, she's pretty much a firmly on the shelf spinster, who has no real intention of getting married. She's far more interested in collecting and identifying fossils than ballrooms and fashions or finding a husband. When she discovers that thieves are hiding stolen goods in the caves where she hunts for her fossils, she knows she must put a stop to it immediately to prevent some other fossil-hunter from making a monumental discovery first. To that end, she summons the Viscount who owns the land, asking him to intervene. When Gideon shows up, Harriet finds him attractive but a bit too autocratic. However, when he does help her, she's quite grateful. Due to some misadventures during the capture of the thieves, the pair find themselves trapped in one of the caves overnight, which of course, leads to Harriet being compromised with a hasty engagement and marriage to follow.
Harriet is a geek of the first order with a one-track mind regarding her fossils, but rather than being the typical nerdy introvert, she's the type who talks incessantly, which can be amusing. She also has very strong opinions, which she isn't afraid to share, particularly with Gideon, while having an underdeveloped sense of her own mortality, which at times, nearly drives Gideon crazy with worry over her. Harriet is very even-tempered and has a matter-of-fact way of looking at almost everything. In fact, she's a bright ray of sunshine in Gideon's dark, cave-like existence. The thing I loved about her the most, though, is that she believes in Gideon right from the start and never wavers in her trust in him. The way she's constantly defending him is almost comical, but at the same time, very endearing. She's definitely a unique heroine who is full of life and vitality. I'd say the only thing that gave me pause about her is that I found it difficult to believe that anyone could be as perky and optimistic all the time as she is, but I'll allow that it did make her a very cute and humorous character.
Gideon hasn't been active in society for the past six years. For starters, in his wild youth, he'd engaged in a drunken duel that was supposed to be all for fun, but which left him with an ugly scar down one side of his face. Few young ladies paid him any attention after that, most finding his countenance hideous. He fell for the beautiful daughter of the former rector and offered for her hand in marriage. But according to the rumors run amok in society, he got her pregnant and broke the engagement, which led to her committing suicide. He's been an outcast dubbed The Beast of Blackthorne Hall ever since. Even his relationship with his parents is a troubled one, since they'd shown preference to his older brother, who died in an accident, and they also seem to believe the rumors everyone else is telling rather than his own story. Gideon scarcely cares what anyone thinks of him anymore, and so he frequently does rather scandalous things. But when he meets the bossy daughter of the latest minister, who demands his assistance, he's met his match.
Gideon is the classic, tortured, misunderstood hero, who's had many things go wrong in his life. As a result, he's mostly hidden himself away, but helping Harriet with her problem with the thieves revitalizes him. While he believes he's lost the ability to love, he finds it to be no hardship to marry the lady once she's been compromised, even though she insists it's unnecessary. He may not understand her fascination with fossils, but what he does understand is her belief in him. He has no real friends, and no one has had his back ever since the events of six years before. Yet Harriet giving him her absolute trust reaches to a place deep inside him that he didn't even realize was yearning for something more. Gideon may try to keep Harriet's energy in check, but she's an unstoppable force of nature. I loved Gideon for his sense of honor and how the loss of it has been the hardest pill to swallow. And yet, he proves his honor time and time again both by his ready acknowledgement that he would be marrying her before they ever left the cave and with his defense of her when she's attacked by a former friend. He was a very lovable hero who I very much admired.
I had a few small issues with various things in the story. First is that, while it takes Gideon a bit longer to recognize his feelings, Harriet basically experiences insta-love for him, which doesn't always work well for me. I couldn't fully quiet the nagging voice in the back of my head, asking exactly what it was about Gideon that made Harriet fall for him in a matter of days and trust him completely. I was mostly OK with it, though, because the author manages to express the emotion between them pretty well. Next was that the love scenes didn't fully have that perfect spark for me. A couple of them end abruptly, with a fade-to-black, in the middle of them making love, while some of the others just didn't quite flow the way I would have hoped. The last thing is that I picked up on occasional repetitious words, where synonyms would have made the narrative flow better. Overall, though, these are pretty minor things in an otherwise fun tale. The story is jam-packed with colorful secondary characters who liven things up quite a bit, while also presenting some potential red herrings for the mystery portions of the plot. And I have to say that part was well-done, too. More than once, I thought I had it all figured out, only to have a little surprise twist pop up that changes everything. So all in all, Ravished was a very good read and a wonderful introduction to Amanda Quick. I look forward to trying out more of her books under whichever name she happens to be using.
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