Publisher submission in exchange for an honest review.
Stand and Deliver
September 16, 2011
Mistress Sarah was once a woman of promise, until a greedy relative left her to fend for herself on the cold, hard streets of London. Now, she does the only thing she can to survive and care for those she has sworn to protect.
Lord Byron Cobbett has given up on life after the death of his beloved fiancée. On a trip to London to clear his family’s name he is involved in a carriage accident.
I really liked the premise of Stand and Deliver Your Heart. A female highway robber and a hero who is too afraid to confront his demons? This has all the makings of romance gold. But, for me, the execution fell a little flat, mostly because the characters, who I thought would be awesome, were driving me crazy by the last page. I just wanted to lock them up in a cell in Newgate and never have to hear from them again.
Sarah is our intrepid heroine. She’s actually the daughter of a duke, but after her parents died, her relatives basically threw her to the wolves, so now she runs an orphanage. Since she doesn’t really have an income, Sarah has resorted to highway robbery. On the night of her first robbery attempt, everything goes wrong. She doesn’t get what she needs, and she ends up with an injured and feverish Lord Byron Cobbett on her hands. Since Sarah is ridiculously moral and good-hearted, she can’t leave the man to die on the side of the road, so she and her band of merry men take him to their nearby hideaway so that Sarah can nurse him back to health.
Here’s where I start to get irritated with Sarah. Her constant inner monologues about how horrible a person she must be because she finds Byron attractive and her incessant guilt over who would care for the orphans if something happened to her (nevermind the fact that she has Bert and Ann who are basically her seconds-in command and are clearly capable of caring for children) made me want to reach through the pages and smack her. Prudish heroines don’t usually bother me – I know it reflects the time period – but there is a way to make them endearing. And then there’s Sarah. Sometimes I felt that the plot was missing because we needed to hear Sarah lament about her wantonness some more. All she did was kiss the guy. Once. And she liked it. So clearly she should just find the nearest brothel and start supporting the orphans on her back. She also thinks that it’s possible that an orgasm causes pregnancy. I realize that her upbringing sheltered her, but she’s been on her own in London for 6 years. And she occasionally acts a healer for the girls in a local brothel. She can’t be that sheltered.
Byron can’t seem to understand his fascination with Sarah. But, because he’s a romance hero, not even an injured shoulder that requires him to wear a sling is going to keep him from attempting to seduce her. Eventually, he’s healed enough to return to London, where he is expected to clear his family name, on the King’s orders. Sarah blackmails him into not telling anyone that she’s a highway robber (though as she’s only attempted and failed to rob one coach, I don’t think she quite qualifies as a highwaywoman yet), but neglects to actually read the documents that she thinks incriminate Byron, proving yet again, that she really is just a moronic woman.
Fast forward about a week. Byron can’t get Sarah out of his head, Sarah worries that she might be carrying a child (again, she still hasn’t actually had sex), and suddenly they run into each other at a party hosted by the King. Byron is a guest, while Sarah is a serving girl (sidenote: why, if she’s able to actually find employment as a maid, is Sarah still robbing coaches? A legitimate job would help with the care of her orphans and be far less dangerous, thus alleviating some of her “OMG, whatever will the children do if something happens to me” moments). Enter a lascivious widow, who has designs on Byron. He’s not interested, but she won’t back down. Sarah, of course, walks in during Lady Widow’s seduction attempt, and immediately flees the scene in tears, wondering how Byron could possibly do this to her after the night they shared, and oh, what will happen to her unborn child (still hasn’t had sex. Can’t be pregnant.), and oh the children, blah blah blah. In her rage and despair, Sarah rounds up her cronies and decides to attempt another robbery. Sarah is clearly the worst highway robber in the world, because who does she decide to rob this time? Lady Widow, who is being escorted home by Byron.
Unbeknownst to Sarah, the King has commissioned Byron to find out who is behind all of the attempted highway robberies. She’s more than a little surprised when Byron’s men catch her, and he transports her to London. He very clearly instructs her to follow his lead, do what he says, and he will make sure she stays safe. Sarah, our resident petulant child, bristles at his high-handed treatment of her (WHAT? He’s saving your life you hare-brained fool), but it’s partially because she is so devastated to see Byron in the coach with Lady Widow. But she doesn’t love him, doesn’t want him, and oh what will happen to the children if she were to get involved with him? See what I mean about wanting to smack Sarah?
After dropping Sarah at Newgate, Byron concocts a rather brilliant plan to make sure that she isn’t found guilty. After instructing her to follow his lead, they are both tried in the Court of Peers. Sarah, of course, isn’t able to follow simple instructions, and ends up accusing Byron of rape (again with the no sex. This woman is an idiot.), which leads him to being sentenced to 10 lashes and being forced to marry Sarah. Neither one is terribly happy with this arrangement, but there’s really no turning back. We now get to wrestle with the love vs. lust debate, a couple of arrogant and stubborn characters, and a tumultuous marriage that may or may not actually work out.
Somewhere in this story there were also subplots about the orphans and how they affect every decision Sarah makes, how Byron is jealous of the orphans, and how Sarah and her guilt complex make Catholic guilt seem like a small twinge of conscience. I got to the point where I was only reading this story because I had to. I think it could have been really good, but Sarah was just such an annoying character that it colored my opinion. I’m a big fan of independent and strong heroines. I’m not a fan of heroines who do nothing but wring their hands and whine and complain about things that have obvious solutions.