The Fortune Hunter
England, 1875: Charlotte Baird is a twenty-something heiress who cares more for art than for amorous suitors. Her ambition is to “…record the world in all its strangeness and beauty,” and she does so through her paintings and photographs. This is all to the chagrin of her older half-brother, Fred, who wants Charlotte to make a sound marital match, not unlike his impending spouse, Augusta, who makes up for what she lacks in royal breeding with fierce social ambition. Charlotte couldn’t care less. But she has one thing that makes the landed gentry and gold-digging bachelors alike stand up and take notice. She is “not perhaps the most striking looking girl in the room, she was undoubtedly one of the richest, as the sole heiress to the Lennox fortune” --- reason enough to be suspect of eager suitors, in Charlotte’s mind.
However, when Charlotte meets handsome Captain Bay Middleton, her heart starts to soften a bit. An avid horseman with ambitions to win the Grand National horse race that year, Bay takes an interest in Charlotte’s photography and asks her to take a portrait of his prized horse. He was different from the rest: “There was a springiness to him that made him a much easier presence than most of the young men she knew.”
"Fans of Lauren Willig’s novels, like THE ASHFORD AFFAIR and the Pink Carnation series, Jo Baker’s LONGBOURN and the PBS series “Downton Abbey” will relish this compelling story with its meticulously researched details."
A decorated soldier in Her Majesty, Queen Victoria’s service, Bay has the manners but not the money that his friends possess. He could do far worse than to marry Charlotte, from a strategic standpoint, but he does in fact find himself attracted to this unassuming, artistic young woman. The more time the two spend together, the more sense marriage seems to make to both of them. Bay hasn’t formally proposed, yet has all but pledged his love to Charlotte.
But then along comes Sisi. Empress Elizabeth of Austria --- better known as Sisi, to her friends and familiars --- travels to England that winter sans her husband, the Emperor, to enjoy some true British country life. At 38 and already a grandmother, Sisi is still devastatingly beautiful with her floor-length hair and porcelain skin. Not wanting to cause too much of a scene, she quietly rents a manor house and fills it with family and staff. An avid horsewoman, she is dying to try her hand at a true English fox hunt. Because she’s unfamiliar with the terrain, it is suggested that she hire a “pilot” --- a more experienced horseman --- to accompany her on these outings. Captain Bay Middleton comes highly recommended, and although he’s reluctant at first, he accepts the post and soon becomes utterly entranced by Sisi’s confidence and feminine wiles. It’s not too long before the pair are lovers.
But what about poor Charlotte, his naïve intended? Bay feels horrible about his betrayal. He has genuine feelings for her, especially since she has more faith in him than he does in himself: “She expected more of him, and he rather liked the version of himself he saw reflected in her eyes.” But the allure of the Empress proves strong. Who will Bay choose, and can it be possible for these souls to have their Jane Austen-type ending?
Fans of Lauren Willig’s novels, like THE ASHFORD AFFAIR and the Pink Carnation series, Jo Baker’s LONGBOURN and the PBS series “Downton Abbey” will relish this compelling story with its meticulously researched details. Real historical figures of the day, including Princess Diana’s ancestors, the Spencers, figure into the narrative. Bay Middleton himself is even a distant relative to Kate Middleton, the current Duchess of Cambridge. The impeccably researched settings and characters, along with the scintillating story, will make new fans of author Daisy Goodwin.
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on August 1, 2014