Purple. The color of royalty. The hot color of red mingled with the cold color of blue. So appropriately the favored color of Miss Gwendolyn Meadows, middle-aged spinster, chaperone and assistant spy to Miss Jane Wooliston, AKA the Pink Carnation. She’ll never be mistaken for a queen but she is just that to a loveable rogue of a career officer, Colonel William Reid. Finally, in “Pink X,” we are introduced to a heroine and hero who prove you don’t always have to be young to experience the thrill of a breathless, reckless romance. This review assumes familiarity with the Pink Carnation series. My apologies if you are still “un-pinked.” Miss Gwen would command you to “do try and keep up.”
What a time to leave Paris with rumors of an alliance forming between the Ottoman Sultan and Napoleon. It seems the Pink Carnation’s little sister, as well as Colonel Reid’s youngest daughter, have gone missing from Miss Climpson’s boarding school for young ladies in Bath, which precipitates the immediate departure of Miss Jane and Miss Gwen. Simultaneously, Colonel Reid retires from his military career in India to settle down in England with his two daughters and is blissfully unaware of his youngest daughter’s disappearance, along with Miss Wooliston’s younger sister. Just why they have gone missing might be their unwitting involvement with an ancient Indian treasure steeped in superstition known as the lost jewels of Berar.
Two centuries later, Eloise and Colin are also beginning to believe that same treasure to be real and historical rumors place it somewhere on Colin’s ancestral estate of Selwick Hall. Mrs. Selwick-Alderly, who has given Eloise total access to the Selwick family history, promises to reveal what she knows of the treasure only if her nephew Colin and Grandson Jeremy work together. Easier said than done, Colin and Jeremy despise each other and Eloise is caught in the middle. She is also vacillating between staying in England with Colin or flying home to a teaching position at the “other Cambridge.”
Two centuries earlier and thrown together out of necessity, Miss Gwen and Colonel Reid are polar opposites as they search for the missing school girls. The Colonel is ruggedly handsome, likeable and attentive. He could charm a basketful of cobras into submission where Miss Gwen would simply intimidate them for the same result. She is English to the core while he wonders what his late and exiled Scottish Jacobite parents would think of him on English soil. The more Miss Gwen tries to hold off the Colonel’s enthusiastic addresses with her caustic wit and chilling countenance the more her slumbering passion is aroused in his presence.
In a beautiful moment, Colonel Reid discretely admires Miss Gwen as they ride together in a coach:
“William snuck a glance at Gwen’s profile, the long line of her nose, the curve of her jaw, the surprisingly long sweep of her lashes, as black as her hair. She was all bundled up again, primly braided and buttoned, but he knew that beneath that stern exterior was a lifetime’s worth of adventure for the man brave enough to win her. If he could talk her to a standstill first. Or kiss her into confusion.”
Each chapter begins with excerpts from Miss Gwen’s gothic novel, The Convent at Orsino, which she has been penning since first arriving in Paris. Each quote is a clever portent to that chapter. That very novel will be highly significant two centuries later for Eloise and Colin.
The mysteries posed by this tale are non-stop: Selwick Hall appears to have been ransacked, but by whom? Has the Pink Carnation actually fallen in love? Is there finally some resolution (gasp) in the relationship between Eloise and Colin? Who is the shadowy foe of the Pink Carnation known only as “the gardener?” Will the partnership between Miss Jane and Miss Gwen be acrimoniously severed? Is Colonel Reid’s son Jack a spy or counter-spy? Who were the men who attacked the colonel and Miss Gwen working for? Are the lost jewels of Berar in India or England or just a myth?
Along the way, Pink Carnation fanciers are treated to re-appearances by the infamous Hell-Fire club, Amy and Richard Selwick plus Henrietta and Miles Dorrington.
While there is passion a-plenty between Miss Gwen and Colonel Reid, I waited patiently for something similar to happen between Colin and Eloise, but their relationship rolled on…..frustratingly too cool and clinical for this incurable romantic. It was late in the book before any sort of emotional heat was generated. However, I trust the author and assume she has something else planned out for these two, perhaps in Pink XI?
The story works for me on many levels. The author’s format of shuttling the story between two eras is what makes the Pink Carnation series so absorbing. The December romance is refreshing, unexpected, and risky. I loved the glimpse behind the often comical side of Miss Gwen that reveals a tragic past and how those events color her world. Colonel Reid notwithstanding, it is really Miss Gwendolyn Meadow’s story and how beautifully the author lays bare this most misunderstood but loved heroine with perfect proportions of humor, sorrow and sensitivity.
Is this my favorite Pink Carnation yet? I think so and I hope it is likewise for you too, dear readers.