This month I’m writing about a book that actually came out of my TBR pile. I chose The Hero Returns by Catherine Blair, and it’s one of the old Zebra Regencies (RIP). The Honorable Miss Amelia Harrow has been waiting for her fiancé to return from the Napoleonic Wars for three years. John Hunter Kirby, Viscount Westhaven proposed to seventeen-year-old Amelia, who has always been in love with him. She happily waited, wrote faithfully, even denying herself a Season because she already had her man and wasn’t interested in meeting anyone else.
Upon Hunter’s return after being injured, Amelia immediately begins anticipating the wedding, and tries to get to know the man he has become. He is distant, spending time staring into space or just walking away in the middle of a conversation, and everyone knows something isn’t right. Amelia even questions whether Hunter still considers them engaged and if he even wants to marry her. Hunter refuses the out she is giving him and remains committed to marrying Amelia.
Amelia is ecstatic to be marrying Hunter, but she senses his hesitance and wonders at his taciturnity and what seems like his avoidance of her. She tells herself that there is affection there and things will change after the wedding, and they do, kind of. The wedding night is painful and Amelia realizes just how much of a stranger Hunter has become to her.
The couple travel to Hunter’s estate, which his brother Thomas has been managing. Time passes and Amelia spends her time learning the servants and trying to occupy herself. Hunter rebuffs Amelia whenever she tries to get him to talk about the war, and spends his days working with the tenants.
Amelia’s attempts to get Hunter to talk about Spain only anger him, and make him act more distant, but then he begs her to not give up on him. Unfortunately for Amelia, she has the bad timing to tell Hunter how much she loves him and is glad to spend time with him. He freaks out and accuses her of smothering him and can’t she just back off? A pissed-off Amelia reminds him that he proposed to her, and forces him to admit that he hoped she would marry someone else while he was fighting. He then tells her that he married her because he felt sorry that she had waited all those years and he wanted to please her. Oh, hell no.
Amelia tells herself she was an idiot for thinking she could make him happy, and it’s time to make herself happy. If Hunter wants to feel guilty and be unhappy, then more power to him. At breakfast the next morning, Hunter tells her he is going to London, and Amelia’s response is pretty much “Bye”, although she does yell after him that he’s a coward.
At this point, we get more scenes with Amelia working around the estate, a threat to the crops, a trip to London, an encounter with a former mistress, and a fire that still has me scratching my head because I still don’t know what purpose it served.
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Yes, Amelia came off as not having much of a personality, but once she was hit with the reality of being married to a man who didn’t seem to be all that thrilled to be with her, she changed quite a bit. She was sheltered and pampered, but very likeable.
I also liked that she was honest with Hunter, and was not afraid to have him aware of her feelings for him. I did wonder how long she was going to let his distant attitude come between them, and am glad that she didn’t just let him ignore her completely, even though he tried hard enough.
I had more mixed feelings regarding Hunter. He planned on getting killed in Spain and letting his brother inherit the title, but we never really get to find out why, other than his brother loved the land more than he did. Hunter also had some trauma from the war, but he seemed to suffer more from survivor’s guilt than anything else.
There wasn’t much internal dialogue on his part other than his descriptions of the pity he felt for Amelia and how she seemed childlike at times, how he hated that no one in Society knew the true horror of war, and woe is me. I’m not making light of the effects of war on soldiers, but Hunter seems to be unhappy just to move the plot along.
This book is out of print, but used copies are available from Amazon and Half.com sellers. And if you get a chance to see the book in person, the hero looks exactly like George Clooney, the Doug Ross years.