Danger Gal Extra: Lady Jessica Trent
I’ve been so remiss in posting lately, I figured I owed my readers and extra Danger Gal post. Or two.
Yeah, I know from that cover you’d never guess that Lady Jessica Trent is a bad-ass, but she is. I recently re-read Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels after seeing it mentioned time and again on the SBTB blog. I remembered liking this book, and upon re-reading it, I discovered that I didn’t just like it, I loved it. (Be warned that I give away a few of the best parts of the novel in this post, so if you haven’t read it there are spoilers ahead.)
You might not expect an early 19th Century Romance novel heroine to be a gun-toting Danger Gal, but as her brother’s manservant observes upon her arrival, Lady Jessica Trent most certainly is not a woman to be trifled with:
More important, in the practical Withers’ view, Miss Jessica had inherited her late father’s brains, physical agility, and courage. She could ride, fence, and shoot with the best of them. Actually, when it came to pistols, she was the best of the whole family, and that was saying something. . . Yet not a one of those fine fellows could outshoot Miss Jessica. She could pop the cork off a wine bottle at twenty paces—and Withers himself had seen her do it.
And later, when the novel’s hero-protagonist Dain ruins her reputation in society, she doesn’t sit around and nobly simper over her lost opportunities. Nope. Lady Jessica Trent shoots Dain and then sues him to within an inch of his life:
Then Dain saw her. She wore a dark red gown, buttoned up to the throat, and a black shawl draped like a mantilla over her head and shoulders. Her face was white and hard. She strode toward the large table, chin high, silver eyes flashing, and paused a few feet away. His heart crashed and thundered into a hectic gallop that made it impossible to breathe, let alone speak. Her glance flicked over his companions. “Go away,” she said in a low, hard voice.
The whores leapt from his lap, knocking over glasses in their haste. His friends bolted up from their places and backed away. A chair toppled and crashed to the floor unheeded.
Only Esmond kept his head. “Mademoiselle,” he began, his tones gentle, mollifying. She flung back the shawl and lifted her right hand. There was a pistol in it, the barrel aimed straight at Dain’s heart. “Go away,” she told Esmond.
Dain heard the click as she cocked the weapon and the scrape of a chair as Esmond rose. “Mademoiselle,” he tried again.
“Say your prayers, Dain,” she said.
His gaze lifted from the pistol to her glittering, furious eyes. “Jess,” he whispered. She pulled the trigger.
It’s important to note that all of Jessica’s dialogue in this passage are repeats of what Dain has said to her—she’s mimicking him, showing him that just because she’s a woman does not mean she’s going to sit idly by and let him ruin her plans for her life. Jessica may not be able to call him out with pistols at dawn, but instead she uses the part of the hysterical female (which she is not) to her advantage: They’re in Paris, the city of lovers, and she pretends to be the wronged lover acting out of a broken heart. Both of them conclude that all of civilized society in Paris will scorn Dain for his actions.
I have no idea how far-fetched that is, I’m not an expert on 19th Century Paris, but it sure is fun reading. Jessica’s character subverts stereotypes in more ways than these over-the-top gun-wielding examples. She’s a spinster at 27 years old and of her own choosing, not for a lack of marriage offers. More than that though, Jessica has plans for her own business buying and selling antiques. She’s got a business plan in her head and she’s been saving up the money to start it, but first she has to save her dopey little brother from Dain’s lecherous lifestyle. Also, Jessica doesn’t seem to feel strongly one way or the other about having children, perhaps because we’re told several times that she raised 10 of her cousins, all boys, due to being an orphan and living with various family members over the years. She’s already done the mom-thing, she over it, a rare find in even a contemporary heroine.
But back to copious litigation. Jessica has connections that Dain, who has scorned polite society all his life, has no access to. One of these is a Duke’s lawyer, a man with a particular axe to grind with misogynistic nobleman:
She drew herself up. “I may appear a negligible, dried-up spinster to you, my lord, but yours, I assure you, is the minority view. I am unwed by choice, not for lack of offers.”
“But now you won’t get any,” he said. His sardonic gaze drifted lazily over her, making her skin prickle. “Thanks to me. And that’s what all this is about.”
He set down the empty glass and turned to Herriard. “I’ve damaged the goods, and now I must must pay what you deem the value of the merchandise, or else you will heap me with documents, plague me with barristers and clerks, and drag me through endless months of litigation.”
“If the law regarded women in a proper light, the process would not be endless,” said Mr. Herriard, unruffled. “The punishment would be severe and swift.”
The rest of this passage makes it clear that Jessica is not angry that Dain’s actions mean she’ll never find a husband. Unlike many other Historical Romance heroine’s Jessica’s source of income is not from a marriage, but from her own business, a business now that no one will buy from since Dain ruined her reputation. She doesn’t want his hand in marriage, she wants monetary compensation for her expected future income. Dain offers marriage, calls her bluff. She accepts, but she informs Dain that:
“I am not a pocket watch,” she said tightly. . .
“I am a human being, and you will never own me, no matter what you pay. You may have destroyed my honor in the eyes of the world, but you will not destroy it in fact.”
Then she turns to her lawyer and says: “Mr. Herriard, show him no mercy.”
I’m not doing this scene justice. There are several levels of communication going on in this scene, several themes being tossed about easily in a few lines of dialogue. Mostly, Chase creates unique likable characters with a contemporary edge—but not to the point of jumping out of her historical setting.
Aside from Jessica, I also enjoyed the hero-protagonist, Dain, a classic Romance alpha hero, but one who doesn’t cross the line into macho-jerk-a$$ territory. Don’t get me wrong, Dain has Issues and Baggage and acts like a child based on those experiences. Empathy is created as the reader is shown these experiences and Jessica sees right through him. Those 10 boys she raised gave her some insight into how the male mind works.