Rosamunde Overton is in trouble – as a matter of fact, she’s not the only one. Her husband, who is much older and drinks and eats excessively, is on the verge of a heart attack. In addition, he can’t seem to get her with child – a necessity for Rosamunde and for the tenants of her estate, Wenscote. If her husband, Sir Digby Overton, passes on – a highly expected occurrence at the rate he’s going – his nephew, Edmund, who is a devoutly fanatic follower of the New Commonwealth (a version of the Puritans or Quakers), inherits and plans to pass the property on to his religious sect.
The New Commonwealth is strict in their adherence to the rigid and simple way of living. If anyone who lives on their property does not properly practice the religion, they are booted off the land – and the people who have lived in the estate for generations, and whom Rosamunde has cared for since living in Wenscote, will be landless as well as penniless. So, Rosamunde, with the help of her cousin, Diana, concocts a scheme in which Rosamunde will take a lover in order to conceive and pass off the child as Sir Digby’s heir.
On the way back from a ball, in which Rosamunde is unsuccessful in finding that lover, she comes across Lord Brand Malloren, presumably dead drunk, on the side of the road. Being the good Samaritan that she is, she drags Brand, with the help of her coachman and groom, to her cousin Diana’s home, the nearest place whereabouts. After cleaning up Brand, she slowly comes to the conclusion that he might be the one – the one man she’s willing to “tup” with to get that heir.
I thought everything about the whole plot was strange… not entirely believable but entertaining nevertheless. First, Brand immediately agrees to make love with her, no questions asked – hardly discerning for a hero. Then, there’s the whole household, from the servants to Rosamunde’s mother to her husband, who suspect what she’s doing and goes along wholeheartedly to avoid being displaced by the New Commonwealth in the future. The really strange part, but utterly clever in its complexity, is the resolution of the book.
Brand is adorable as a hero, with his easy going charm and attitude, insofar as to willingly have sex with a lady whose face he never sees (Rosamunde wears a mask all that time) just because she saved his life. I suppose that’s not a hardship for a man but I would have preferred that he give a little bit of a fight by attaching certain conditions to their “affair”. Rosamunde as a heroine was independent and intelligent - having to deal with an older husband who drinks and eats to excess, she assumes command of the estate, from the planting of the crops to breeding sheep and horses. Although she’s interesting as an individual because of her experiences, she’s a tad bit insecure for a proper heroine – and understandably so. But still… it’s not an attractive trait especially when she gives little credit to Brand, who she assumes will be horrified at her “unattractiveness”.
Nevertheless, the strangeness is all part of the appeal of Secrets of the Night. It kept me turning the pages and entertained throughout… and isn’t that what good romantic fiction is all about?