THE ESCAPE - Mary Balogh
The Survivors' Club , Book 3
England, six years or so after the Napoleonic Wars.
The Duke of Stanbrook lost his son in the war and opened his estate in Cornwall to five other officers and an officer's widow, a place to heal from their various wounds, visible and not. After three years of care and sharing they all moved on, but so great was the friendship formed that they agreed to an annual three week reunion of the “Survivors' Club.” The third such reunion was just ending when the topic of Sir Benjamin Harper's depression was brought up. Major Harper's legs had been crushed so badly in battle, the doctors wanted to amputate as he'd never walk again, but they discounted Ben's strength of will. He now manages to walk with the help of two special canes. Ben now confesses his problem to all. He had had two brothers, the eldest spent his time in London; Ben was in the military; and the youngest stayed home and managed the estate for his brother. About the time Ben was wounded, the eldest was killed in an accident, and Ben inherited a fortune and the baronetcy. He was not expected to live, and his brother Calvin stayed on as steward of the estate. Cal now has a wife and rambunctious children. Everyone is kind to Ben…overly so, not letting him strain himself. There seems to be no place for him there unless he sends the family away, and he can't bring himself to do that. Even more depressing is the fact that Ben realizes he's as good as he will ever be. He will never be the man he was. He decides to spend some time with his sister Beatrice in Durham while he tries to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.
Samantha McKay married very young to the second son of an earl in spite of the disapproval her husband's family. She was deliriously happy for a few months until disillusion set in. When Matthew went off to war, she spent a year under the thumb of the controlling earl who was determined to shape Samantha into a lady. But then Captain McKay was wounded, and Sam spent the next five years nursing her demanding spouse in their house in Durham. When he died, her father-in-law sent his spinster daughter to her to make sure she didn't disgrace the family name. It has been months of wearing smothering black and going nowhere but church on Sundays. Lady Matilda even turned back neighbors who came to offer condolences. In a burst of defiance one day, Sam ventured out beyond the property line. As she walked her dog along a hedge, she and Tramp were startled when a horse and rider suddenly came over the hedge onto the road. Nether was hit, but the surprise sent Sam tumbling. Her fighting spirit arose and she began scolding the man who hadn't even the courtesy to get off his horse to help her up. Ben, for it was he, saw only an old crone in black and veil with a noisy dog frightening his horse. Not a grand first meeting of our hero and heroine.
Ben realized he owed an apology to the lady he frightened. But when he called on her, he was the one surprised. She was no crone but a beauty! Before long, the very beginnings of a friendship brought Lady Matilda scurrying home to the earl to report. Soon, the earl sent an escort to bring Sam to him. Her home was to be given to another son. Now what?
If Sam has any maternal relatives, she doesn't know of them. Her mother was estranged from them long before she died. But Sam learns she was left a cottage in Wales by a great aunt she had never met. Sir benedict helps her escape from her father-in-laws servants, and off to Wales they go, not knowing what to expect.
THE ESCAPE is an excellent addition to the character rich Survivors' Club series. There is suspense aplenty as well as touches of passion and humor, but what I love most about Ms. Balogh's work is the character and relationship development shown through superb actions and dialogue. It's impossible not to get caught up in her world.