Miss Billings Treads the Boards
Cynical, lazy Lord Grayson is coerced into delivering a message to lovely Katherine Billings, whose late father frittered away a fortune on artwork. All his purchases were forgeries, save one, which-if sold-would offer Kate a modest living. Meanwhile, Kate has bowed to necessity and set off for Wakefield to become a governess. Gently reared, she has no plans to become a scandalous actress, but Things Happen. Injured by a highwayman hired by his greedy nephew, Lord Grayson staggers to a barn where a play is in progress. There he sees Kate, playing a small role. Through a mishap, she has ended up in Wickfield, not Wakefield, and is performing with the Bladesworth Traveling Company, an acting troupe. What's a lazy and cynical marquis to do? Lord Grayson-using his everyday name of Hal Hampton-joins the troupe, partly to protect himself from his nephew, but mostly to get to know Kate better. They both fall under the spell of the impecunious but talented Bladesworths. A charming French émigré, a single-minded Bow Street Runner, and love round out a summer where the repertory includes deception, faux marriage, the law, and enough unsavory characters to suit any would-be Shakespeare. After all, the play's the thing.
Kate, the entire Bladesworth family, Gerald the playwright, and even the Bow Street Runner, are utterly charming and lovable. This made the book a pleasure to read ... an enjoyable Regency romance. -- Rike Horstmann, All About Romance
4 Stars:Henry Tewksbury-Hampton, Fifth Marquess of Grayson (Hal) is turning into a dull dog, no longer attractive, with thinning hair, a thickening waist and no desire to leave the house. He returned years earlier from the Napoleonic Wars and settled down into this easy way of life. His solicitor advises him to wed and beget children so he has a reason to pull himself together and get back to being the man that he once was. Hal laughs all this off and decides to go into the country, but on the journey, he is accosted, injured and left bleeding after his bumbling attackers all but run away.
Kate Billings lived a traveling life with her father - a Pastor - who was more interested in art than the Bible. After his death she is penniless and has to take up a job as a governess in the town of Wakefield. As a result of all of her worries and mindless wandering she ends up in the town of Wickfield, and instead of being met by the servant her employer was sending, was picked up instead by an actor who thinks she is the actress he is supposed to meet.
The novel is a romantic comedy; there's a lot of slapstick and not really much detail around the plays that the characters are performing in. There's hitting with candlesticks, fainting and overreactions. Given the number of times Hal gets hit you'd think he'd be out for more than a few minutes and possibly suffering a concussion, but it's amusing to see this in a romantic setting. Hal can be pushy which may be a little off-putting and it sometimes makes the reader wonder exactly what Kate sees in him! But given her upbringing and life with an unreliable man who could never stay in one place and who ultimately left her with nothing, it's easy to see why she would be attracted to a man like Hal who is the complete opposite. The romance between Kate and Hal is an interesting one - their entire relationship actually starts on a lie and it continues that way, which, fortunately, is more humorous than not, because of the theatrical setting. After all, it can be only in a setting like this that something as big as deception turns into something funny.
I had a major problem with the fact that the story revolved around actors and theatricals. I loved the idea of the traveling troupe, which is something that you rarely see in romantic novels; and to have this be the main focus was such a lovely idea. But it seemed too unlikely, and the major conflict of the story (which I won't reveal) shows the entire troupe to be almost unbelievably naive. Also - I don't know many actors who go around just randomly sprouting quotes as sayings because they happen to fit the situation.
Even though Hal is not a typical romantic hero, he is nonetheless a hero to Kate. He makes her see what she has in her, that she is able to stand up for herself and do what she wants. Hal and Kate are perfect for each other; they are different but still want the same things. And even though their plans didn't include acting they take it by the reins which brings them closer together. -- Lizzie English, Romantic Historical Reviews 4/2/2014
Carla Kelly's Regency Romances are always superb and a timeless delight. -- Romantic Times
one of the most respected Regency writers. -- Library Journal
Read an Excerpt
When Lord Grayson regained consciousness, he found himself facedown on the wagon bed, staring at a pile of wooden swords next to bony, skeletal toes. He closed his eyes again, declaring to himself, "When I open them, I will be in bed at Half Moon Street."
He opened one eye and then the other, but the view was still swords and toes. He lay where he was, unable to summon the energy to roll over and constricted by the narrow space. His head throbbed like a species apart, pounding like a pile driver on the back of his neck. With some effort he worked his hand up to his head, feeling again the furrow caused by Wilding's bullet. The wound was crusted with dried blood.
His hand traveled to the back of his neck, where the pile driver was working the hardest, and came away wet with his blood. As he lay there contemplating this new ruin to his head, he remembered a woman with a remarkable bosom. Surely not, he thought. He remembered that she was small and could not possibly have had the strength to deliver the blow that was even now making him queasier by the minute. She must have struck me with something, he concluded. God, what a woman. I hope I do not see her again until I feel better.
Grunting softly, Henry eased himself up. He sat absolutely still until the nausea went away and then leaned back carefully against the pile of old clothing. He thought at first that he would leave the wagon before anyone returned, but he could not. He ached everywhere, and even the tiniest shifting of position made the hairs rise on his back.
As he sat considering his situation, he heard a great wave of applause from the barn. What is going on in that place, he asked himself. It couldn't be a cockfight. People didn't applaud like that at cockfights, at least, not the ones he had attended. His hand went to the back of his neck again. And rarely did women with blunt objects and magnificent bosoms frequent such low business. He sighed and resigned himself to whatever fate awaited, sorry that he had taken off his riding coat, now that the night was cooler, and grateful that he still had his wallet in his pocket. Surely he could buy his way out of any trouble.
In a few moments he heard the sound of people leaving the barn. They talked among themselves in low tones, with an occasional burst of laughter. In another moment the light from a candle thrust in his face made him squint and try to cover his eyes.
"Ods bodkins," boomed out a hearty voice that made his head throb even harder. "Whatever did you catch here, Kate?"
"Oh, please talk softer," he begged. "My head is killing me."