Janet's Reviews > A Regency Valentine II

A Regency Valentine II by Mary Balogh
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's review
Oct 18, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: oop-regency, valentine-anthology, angsty-goodness, revenge, separated-for-long-time

I wrote in depth about "A Waltz Among the Stars" by Mary Balogh for Heroes and Heartbreakers.

Our protagonists are a widower and a single mother. Caleb White, Viscount Brandon, has finally decided to set aside his grief, two years after the death of his wife. Lady Barbara Hanover, the mother of a seven year-old boy conceived on Valentine’s Day eight years earlier, wonders if life holds anything more for her than her secluded life on her father’s ducal estate. Two people waking up to the realization that

…Valentine’s Day was different. It was a day for lovers, a day for two people, a day when relatives and friends counted for very little. Just that one other. That one dearly beloved other.

What Caleb and Barbara have in common is they’ve both lost love and endured years of empty loneliness. Other than that, however, they could scarcely be more different. Caleb is visiting the Duke of Durham’s primary seat in order to court Lady Eve Hanover, the duke’s youngest daughter. Barbara is mourning the loss of her memories of her soldier-lover, the father of her son Zachery, a casualty of the Battle of Talavera, Spain, 1809.

She was forgetting Zach, and she was restless and longing for something to which she could not—or dared not—put a name. And Valentine’s Day was always the worst day of all. She dreaded it and wished it past already.

As so often happens in Balogh’s stories, a child is the bridge that joins a couple and so it is here. Caleb is delighted by Zachery’s boyish enthusiasms, teaching him how to sail a boat and train his first puppy but he’s certainly not unmindful of Barbara’s serene blonde beauty, even though,

“I am the skeleton in the family closet,” she said.

He looked steadily at her. “Are you?” he said. “But you have a lovely son.”

When Barbara shares that she is not sorry, because her son is all she has of her fallen love, Caleb not only understands, he says, “I have no such memento of my wife. I envy you.” Caleb’s family is warm and demonstrative, quite a contrast to Barbara’s life on the outside of her family circle. Again and again, Balogh writes of the tension between Barbara’s single-minded devotion to her son and her yearning to love and be loved, as when she says, almost in shock after Caleb rescues her son from a dunking, “I have nothing else in the world. Only him.” Barbara believes that her status as an unwed mother is the only measure defining her, dooming “her to living on the fringes of life.” She thinks poignantly that there was “no end to her disgrace, as there was an end to his grief.” She confides to Caleb that she wishes she could dance “among the stars.”

Balogh has an unerring ability to extract the true nature of love between a man and a woman, often delineating it as it unfolds. Attracted to Barbara’s mature loveliness, Caleb captures what caused it:

Eight years before, she had probably been exceedingly pretty, as her sister was now. But in those eight years, suffering and love had etched character into her face, and calmness and knowledge of life into her eyes. And she was beautiful as a result.

Barbara has her dance with Caleb—he visits her home one evening and teaches her how to waltz. When he kisses her as one might “kiss a dear sister,” Barbara throws herself into his arms and returns his kiss with yearning and passion. Readers of Balogh know that in her stories physical intimacy often presages a meeting of hearts and minds. It’s a bellwether of what’s to come. Of course Barbara is embarrassed and Caleb is not quite ready to step across the threshold and leave conventionality behind. When Caleb visits Barbara on Valentine’s Day, bringing a gift for her young son, she smiles and says nothing. Her heart is too full.

She smiled again as he turned to leave the house. She said nothing. She could not. She was waging too fierce a battle against tears. She did not believe that she had ever felt more lonely in her life.

But Balogh, with consummate skill, lightens the scene. Barbara’s heart may be breaking, again, but the new puppy has widdled and life goes on. True love cannot be denied, though, and Caleb comes back to her house to offer Barbara his hand and his heart. She turns him down quite definitely, reminding him once again of her circumstances and saying that it is impossible for her to rejoin respectable society or for her son to become Caleb’s stepson. Caleb is a man in love and he will not be denied, not if Barbara loves him.

He caught her by the shoulders and spun her around to face him. “You are a woman who loved unconditionally,” he said. “Zach is a product of that love.”

Barbara tells Caleb she loves him and she takes her place beside him, her betrothed, at her parents’ Valentine’s Day ball, coming full circle to her earlier wish to take a star out of her pocket and waltz under it. As Caleb tells her, stars “are meant to be danced among,” not hidden in pockets.


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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Ilze Beautiful review, Janet!

Suzanne Looking forward to your Part II!

Suzanne Enjoyed Part II Janet! I got choked up just reading your review about Amy and Hugh, and have ordered it from Amazon.

Janet I'm getting choked up reading that--thank you so much. Balogh's non-Christmas short stories are a real treasure trove, so worth seeking out.

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