Virgin and the Unicorn, The Hardcover – 2003
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Lord Rotham unexpectedly returns from his post at the Vienna Congress, and although he has a serious problem on his hands, he finds himself inexplicably drawn to Miranda, who proves to be immune from his practiced charm. It gives him pause to realize how his antics of the past have tainted him in Miranda's eyes, and this latest escapade of his--having stolen a valuable French tapestry from a cathedral on a lark--is not showing his character in any good light either. Still, there's no keeping secrets in that household, especially after the tapestry is stolen and the servant left guarding it seriously wounded. Since this matter is likely to cause an international incident, somehow they have got to figure out who stole it and get it back again.
Rotham knows what he wants almost from the first, and even his affectionate parents see it before Miranda does. But how can she take this rogue seriously when he was the cause of her sister Trudie's anguish in the past? No doubt he had cut quite a swathe through the great ladies at the Vienna Congress before returning home. And hadn't she seen the looks he'd exchanged with the beautiful comtesse who was also lodging with the Hershams? No, Miranda is far too sensible to have her head turned by a gentleman with HIS track record.
And yet. . . is Miranda truly so cautious and staid herself? Perhaps the truth is that she's been waiting for an opportunity to have an adventure herself. . . and who better but an experienced rogue--one who is feeling seriously remorseful of his misspent youth--to accompany her?
I love the characters, the close family relationships, the witty repartee, especially Pavel's remark about the lump on Rotham's forehead giving him the look of a unicorn, a reference to the famous tapestry of "The Virgin and the Unicorn". (No need to worry; it was a minor injury that soon faded.) The implication being, of course, that Miranda was the virgin who had tamed the unicorn without really trying to; he had voluntarily laid his head in her lap in a gesture of eternal surrender.
Joan Smith is a talented author; it is to be hoped that her books will be released in ebook format for the enjoyment of newer readers, who do not often get the chance to read such delightful Regencies these days.
Miranda (Sissie) is visiting Ashmead, helping Lady Hersham repair old tapestries. The title refers to a tapestry hanging in Miranda's guest bedroom at Ashmead. Because of her interest in tapestry, Miranda is a frequent visitor to Ashmead. Lady Hersham is very fond of Miranda who shares her hobby.
The son of Lady Hersham and heir to Lord Hersham, Lord Rotham has returned for a visit at Ashmead. He has been serving as a diplomat at the Congress of Vienna. Rotham has brought home a mysterious locked trunk from his travels. His younger brother Pavel and Sissie (both the same age who behave like sister and brother) are consumed with curiousity. What is the secret in the trunk that is being guarded 24 hours a day? They devise ruses to get a peek in the trunk.
Pavel and Miranda eavesdrop, through a closed door, on an argument between Rotham and his father. Rotham has done something that is going to cause trouble and it has something to do with the contents of the locked trunk. Paval and Miranda are more anxious than ever to find out what is in the trunk.
The antics of Pavel, Miranda (Sissie), and Rotham are entertaining. Witty repartee, something which Joan Smith does deftly, can be found in this novel. Being thrown together with the spunky Miranda due the circumstances surrounding the contents of the trunk (hint: a tapestry of course), Rotham ends up becoming interested in Miranda who he had never considered in a romantic way before.
If you liked Joan Smith's "Drury Lane Darling" you will also enjoy this story too.
I loved this story, as I usually do with most of Ms. Smith's works. Aside from the usual smart and lovable characters, entertaining battle of wits, and guessing-until-the ending mystery, this story also had very endearing father and son relationship and progressive development of hero and heroine's love relationship. I also felt I was reading a play where there was a constant entering and exiting of characters to the stage, at some point, I could even imagine as if there was a revolving door rotated actors/actresses around. I felt I was enjoying a comedy play... ( I wouldn't be surprised if that was Ms. Smith's intention, knowing that she is very knowledgeable of art and everything relate to it). Needless to say, there was never a dull moment. Another book to my bookshelf.
Ambrose's past reputation has him pegged as a somewhat irresponsible older son who has always been up to running whatever rig suited him at the moment. Miranda, long time family friend of the family, is much younger than Ambrose and remembers only too well how her older sister, Trudie, set her heart on Ambrose years previously, only to have it broken by him. She's grown up running free and loose at the Hersham family household and is on an extended visit with Pavel, Ambrose's younger brother, when she and Pavel get caught up in Ambrose's latest rig.
It seems Ambrose was on assignment for Castlereagh at the Vienna Congress when he decided to "borrow" a French national treasure and bring it back to England with him. Belatedly, Ambrose realizes his mistake but the deed is done and before he can manage to get it back to France, it becomes the object of interest to unidentified villain(s). While Ambrose and his father try to deal with the situation, Miranda and Pavel are working behind the scenes to: 1) figure out what Ambrose took; 2) do all they can to protect the stolen treasure; which is hidden in a trunk in Ambrose's room; and, 3) try to figure out who is trying to steal the item.
I loved Pavel's character. He and Miranda are of an age - in fact, her parents promoted Miranda's most recent visit to the Hersham home hoping the two of them would make a match. In the meantime, Ambrose is drawn to Miranda as a bee is to honey, except Miranda keeps rebuffing him because she's still miffed at how he hurt Trudie all those years ago. Of course, this only serves to make Ambrose even more interested and results in some introspective soul searching of his own irresponsible past behavior.
Enjoyable! Keep them coming Ms. Smith.