It Happened One Season is a collaborative effort between four talented romance writers and one very imaginative reader. The premise is this; the writers were given the assignment of taking a reader's plot suggestion culled from a publisher's contest (in this case Avon, a subsidiary of HarperCollins) and each use it to write a different story. The "winner" of this contest, Phyllis Post, to whom the book is dedicated, came up with a three point plot suggestion. The first, that the male protagonist be the second son of a noble family, previously in the army and now returned home. The second, that the female protagonist be shy, in some way considered unattractive (even if that's her own perception) and devoid of any suitors, past or present. The final piece to the plot is the propelling force to the stories; the male protagonists' brother has only daughters, so he is ordered to step up to the plate, as it were, and keep the noble line away from a distant, inappropriate relative.
Stephanie Lauren's contribution is called, quite unimaginatively I might add, The Seduction of Sebastion Trantor. Sebastion, newly returned from the Peninsula Wars, is the heir to his brother Thomas, the Viscount Coningsby, the father of multiple daughters. Tabitha Makepeace is looking to catch a blackmailer, someone who is trying to expose her friends' pasts in order to derail their newly arranged marriages. They stumble upon each other and proceed to solve the mystery and fall in love at the same time, thereby killing two birds with one stone. Thankfully, Lauren's use of a thesaurus is somewhat tempered in this story, which made it readable, even to me, not one of her biggest fans.
Mary Balogh is one of my favorite authors, and so I had high hopes for her contribution, Only Love. Jack Gilchrist, a hero of the Napoleonic Wars has lived as a recluse for five years. He is summoned to do his duty and set up his nursery when his sister in law is told she cannot have any more children. Cleo Pritchard was married to Jack's commanding officer. A cruel man 23 years her senior, he died in battle, and Jack was left to deliver the news to the new widow all those years ago. When they meet again at a ball, there is an undeniable attraction between the two and he proposes to her 24 hours after that second meeting, looking to avoid a season on the marriage mart hunting for a suitable wife. In a twist, Cleo decides she won't marry Jack unless she gets pregnant first. I loved this particular plot line and thought it was pretty progressive. Too progressive, as it turns out, but no matter. While not my favorite of this particular analogy, it was good reading. The author did not disappoint.
The third author, Jacquie D'Alessandro, contributed Hope Springs Eternal. This was my favorite of the four. Well written, well executed, with only a small degree of self-pity on the part of the female protagonist, Penelope Markham, an art teacher dismissed in disgrace when she dared to sculpt a male nude. This was the one story that had me wishing it was a full length novel. Penelope is saved from a mugging by Alec Trentwell, her dead brother's commanding officer. Alec has been following Penelope with the intent of keeping her safe for her dead brother's sake as well as his own guilt. He's got a secret and he has to share it with Penelope. Finding the right time to do that is his problem, as he too, proposes after meeting her in order to meet his brother's demand that he marry and start begetting heirs. Another two for one deal here as Penelope never thought to marry and always hoped to, and Alec must. Love is the result of this unorthodox match, but can it survive the secret that is eating Alec alive?
The last story is Fate Strikes a Bargain, by Candice Hern, another author I am not familiar with. In this story, the female heroine, Phillipa Reynolds has a physical disability which kept her on the sidelines through three seasons. Captain Nathaniel Beckwith, a dead ringer for Richard Sharpe aka Sean Bean (except for the noble bloodline) returns home from Waterloo a changed man, and one with a final mission given to him by his brother; to produce a male heir. He proposed to Phillipa exactly five minutes after meeting her while both were hiding behind a potted plant at a ball. He's more damaged from war than the other three heroes we've met in this analogy, but eminently more likable. The two embark on a season together to satisfy her mother wish that propriety be observed, and fall in love. Phillipa is also the strongest character of the four women we've met, which makes for a nice love story.
I loved the idea of this contest, and to be honest, had I known about it, I might have come up with some plot suggestions of my own. If I can't write my own romance novel, having one dedicated to me is the next best thing. Out now, It Happened One Season is worth a read, for how it was conceived if nothing else.