Japonica Fortnom has lived in Persia nearly all her life. Her father, a wealthy merchant and member of the Fortnom family who founded Fortnum and Mason grocers, worked for the East India Company. When her father died in a shipwreck, Japonica continued his work with the company – she was an expert on exotic spices. Then, the company asked her to go to Baghdad to nurse an elderly man, Lord Abbot, viscount Shrewsbury. She and her employer got along well, and life was calm, but good. Japonica had give up hope of marrying, she was only nineteen, but had been told that she was plain. Then, the French and English declared war, and the French came to Persia and signed a treaty with the Shah. Now the English were in danger, and Japonica had to find a way to smuggle herself, her nursemaid and Lord Abbot out of Baghdad. It seemed an impossible task – the French were everywhere. But Lord Abbot knew of a man who might help. He wrote a note to him, and begged Japonica to deliver it. She did, and met the man called the 'Hind Div'. Supposedly half man, half demon, the Hind Div in reality was an English spy working for English intelligence in Baghdad. That day, he'd had been expecting an assassin, so when Japonica arrives, he drugs her, then takes advantage of her. Of course, he's shocked to find she's a virgin, then, when he reads her note, he sees the terrible mistake he's made. Needless to say, he helps her escape. Right before they leave for India, news comes that the Hind Div has been killed. Lord Abbot convinces Japonica to marry him. She does, and he asks her to return to England to raise his five little girls, who live in his ancestral home. And then he dies.
Japonica and her nursemaid travel towards England. She's pregnant with the Hind Div's child. When they reach Portugal, they are detained for political reasons, and Japonica gives birth to a boy. Her nursemaid stays in Lisbon to take care of the baby, and a heartbroken Japonica leaves to see about straightening out the mess Lord Abbot has gotten her into. All she wants to do is to return to her son.
If I say any more, I'll spoil the surprises, for the book's plot twists and turns. Japonica is an interesting heroine – she speaks Persian and knows the arts of healing. The other characters in the book are memorable. The Hind Div isn't dead, of course. It turns out he's Devlyn Sinclair, the new viscount Shrewsbury – a legacy from Lord Abbot. He's suffered a head wound and is amnesiac. She falls in love with him too – and their relationship blooms as she tries to help him recover his memory. They make love, and she tells him why she's no virgin. He's very shocked and furious with this 'Hind Dev' person. Japonica helps him find his memory, and is horrified to recall how he seduced her. He resolves to marry her, and falls in love with her.
And here is where the story fell apart for me. I don't know why romance writers insist on having their heroines have huge rows with their men just as things are working out. Is it so that they can be separated and have maybe twenty more pages of bitterness and rubbish? This time the excuse is because Devlyn remembered what he did, and was so full of remorse that he wanted to make amends by going to fetch her baby son in Lisbon. When he comes back, she won't speak to him for months – dragging the punishment out she feels he's finally understood whatever it was she wanted him to understand. Of course, all this time she pines for him, but her pride won't let her go to him. Honestly, why ruin a well-written book with excellent characters on a stereotyped ending? Do romance writers really have to follow the rules to the point of ridicule? Any other woman would have been thrilled to have him back. He's so happy to have found his son (whom he recognizes as his son) and yet Japonica insists on inflicting several months of the silent treatment upon him. I would have liked to give this book a high score. It was well written and the beginning starts out beautifully. The characters are quite fun, but I found the ending unbearably disappointing. I wish Ms. Parker would forget the 'rules of romance writing', and write something believable. Mischief was a good try, but it fell flat at the end.