Spindle Cove is a quiet seaside town populated almost entirely by women. A holiday village which offers refuge to the sickly, shy, scandalous or unusual young women of the ton, amply entertained and taken in hand by Miss Susanna Finch, daughter of the local baron, a pioneer within weapons development. There's no tavern, only a tea room, and the only available men are either children, fishermen or farmers. Hence Victor Bramwell, wounded in the Napoleonic wars in Portugal, faces a challenge when he, as newly minted Earl of Rycliff, is tasked with creating a local militia. Shot in the knee, he's been deemed unfit to return to service. He's determined to prove his worth to the War Office, but discovering the dearth of fit and able bodied men in Spindle Cove, he realises that the task can prove nearly impossible.
Things are certainly not made easier by Miss Susanna Finch, who wants the handsome war hero, his dissolute nobleman cousin and their stone faced, rugged corporal out of her safe little town as quickly as possible. Having discovered first hand how difficult it can be for women who don't fit into society, she's worked hard to create a safe haven for well-bred young ladies, where their confidence can be boosted, their skills and intellect can be encouraged, and those who need it can get enough rest and relaxation to regain their strength, without invasive procedures like blood letting, leaches, excessive medication and such.
Susanna and Bram are obviously attracted to each other from the start. Susanna, while pretty, is taller than your average Regency woman, and obviously a bluestocking. She's never met a man she couldn't manage with ease. Bram, very tall himself, finds her intelligence and outspokenness refreshing, but realises that seducing the daughter of his father's close friend is a huge mistake. Bram is frustrated by the lack of suitable recruits for his militia, and everywhere he turns, he is told to defer to Miss Finch's judgement or advice. Every time the two meet they argue, and then usually fall into each other's arms.
Can Susanna keep Bram and his militia from ruining the idyll of her little town? Can she keep her heart safe from the dashing war hero? Can Bram actually train the ragtag bunch of males available to him into a credible militia? Can he keep his mind on the mission and off Susanna Finch?
This is the first Tessa Dare novel I've read, and it was utterly delightful. For the most part cheerful, funny and frothy, it's got everything I really want from light-hearted romance, and in many ways reminded me of Julia Quinn's better novels. Yet interspersed with the wonderful banter is great characterisation, and both Susanna and Bram have issues in their pasts that they need to work through. Their romance faces challenges as their hopes and dreams seem so different, yet their romance resolves beautifully in the end, without anything feeling oversimplified or like cheating. The supporting cast is also very well depicted (several characters are clearly going to have their romances in later books), and it's like a wonderful gift to discover a new author whose style I enjoy. I can't wait to read both her past and future books.