The Sally Beauman obsession continues apace. I’ve finished two more of her pre-Destiny Harlequin Presents, published under her pen name, Vanessa James. Both have the requisite young, innocent blond and the older, darker, wealthy man and a large gap of time when they are separated that would become her prototype.
The Devil’s Advocate was published in 1983.
Louisa and her sister Claudia, who has only two scenes in the book, live in a lovely cottage in London. Claudia has committed some (very) minor financial crime; she’s stolen £2,000 from her employer – an amount so tiny it is difficult to justify the rest of the book. Claudia asks her sister to find the money, to make things right with Claudia’s employer. Louisa swallows her pride and asks Julius Morrell for the money – a man she loved ten years ago. Their relationship abruptly ended, and Julius is very bitter when he sees Louisa on his doorstep. Julius is a wealthy barrister, a man who “both defends and prosecutes.”
He implies that if she sleeps with him, he will give her the money. She refuses. So he suggests that she marry him for the £2,000.
It will be a marriage of convenience. She will be well taken care of; he will allow her a generous allowance for her trifles. But there would be no sex (because if a man wants you to sleep with him for £2,000, the next best thing is marrying you and withholding sex). So Louisa agrees.
After a beautiful wedding they fly to Venice. Their moratorium on sex lasts one day. The day after their wedding, their love begins to bloom once more. The reader at this point still doesn’t know why they broke up ten years ago. After an idyl of several days, Julius’s brother, Kit, arrives, and attempts to rape Louisa. Julius walks in on the act and believes they are making love. We learn then that ten years ago, the exact same thing happened! Julius had walked in on Kit attempting to rape Louisa; he was so bitter from Louisa’s “betrayal” that he refused to speak to her for ten years.
Julius leaves her in Venice. Then he comes back and they make up and make love. I remember very little about the actual plot of this book, though I read it only last week. By the end of this, I was skipping pages. Her language is all there, but these were her practice books before Destiny and her gift for storytelling is not yet honed to perfection.
Chance Meetings, published in 1984, was next:
If possible, this one was even more ridiculous than Devil’s Advocate. It has a hysterical pitch that it quite unusual for Sally Beauman. But the story is about Caro, whose ancient family home, Trevalynes, is about to be auctioned off. Desperate to save her home, she goes in search of a rich man. She and her cousin Marian see two men in a Bentley and make a plan to catch and marry them. They are two cousins as well – Will and Francis. The courtship scenes seem to go on forever, and they are quite dull. Finally we learn that Francis is an architect famous throughout Europe and Will has come to the Cornish village to buy Trevalynes!
Naturally Caro is very cross that Francis so deceived her. Then they break up, Will buys the house, and I don’t know what happened after that because I skimmed the rest of the book.
These dreary little books are actually very heartening to read. I can see the author working her craft, building up to Destiny. They are excellent for education about Sally Beauman. They are rather poor books to read if one is looking for enjoyable romance.