I have made no secret that I love Ms Milan’s work.¹ I enjoy her writing voice very much, I love how strong her heroines are, and how even in short stories like this one, she manages the most wonderful twists.
I have, however, been quite remiss in reviewing any of her work until now. I’m hoping to correct the oversight this year.
“The Lady Always Wins,” by Courtney Milan
You can see in the author’s website that this story was originally written for, and published in, a charity anthology a couple of years ago. Later, Ms Milan self published it individually, and it’s also available in her A Novella Collection.
You can read more about the story, and a longish excerpt, here.
And the blurb, from the author’s site:
It’s all fun and games…
Nobody has ever come close to taking the place that Virginia Barrett had in Simon Davenant’s heart. As a child, Ginny was his best friend and comrade-in-arms. As a young lady, she became his sweetheart. But when his parents discovered their growing affection, they threatened to cut Simon off without a penny if he married her. And when Simon planned an elopement, Ginny refused: She wasn’t going to marry a poor man. Ever.
…until someone loses a fortune.
In the seven years since they last saw one another, Ginny has been married and then widowed. Simon has built an empire as a railway financier. When they meet again, there’s still that same delicious, playful attraction between them. But only Simon knows how tenuous his second chance really is. Everyone believes that Simon is wealthy. In truth, his company has been taken over by a hostile competitor and he is ruined. He knows from bitter experience that Ginny won’t marry a poor man. And so he has three days until the news becomes public—three days to seduce, woo, and marry the woman he cannot forget, or risk losing her…and this time, for good.
Bona of the fantastic Spanish blog Romántica, No Rosa, has observed that it’s a lot easier to believe a lasting romance when reading a shorter story, if the characters already know each other when the story starts. This theory applies quite well to this novella.
The blurb tells you some of where the characters are as the story starts. They have known each other since childhood and, at one point, were in a romantic relationship with each other that ended, to put it mildly, not well.
What makes the story so engrossing is the tone, the flavor of their relationship. It is so much more complex than simple unrequited love.
After all these years, Simon is still determined to have Ginny, even if he has to lie to her about his precarious financial circumstances. This is not actually a spoiler, by the by, it’s spelled out quite early on in the narrative.
After all these years, Ginny is still determined to be mistress of her own destiny. It becomes clear, within a handful of pages, that Ginny never stopped having very strong feelings for Simon. Feelings as deep and strong as those Simon has for her.
The thing is, a person is more than any one thing, and sometimes the same person will be pulled in entirely different directions by equally–or almost equally–strong impulses. As Simon will eventually come to realize.
I absolutely love the relationship between these two people. They love each other, but they are not blind to their faults, and old hurts are not ignored in favor of a hasty resolution. We know Simon’s secret, and we soon learn some of Ginny’s secrets, as we witness them reconnecting, and learning who the other person is in their present, compared to the one they each remember. Theirs is a delicate dance of half truths and half deceptions underlaid with so much history and such deep feelings…
I love how Ms Milan constructs a very plausible reality for the characters, and the reader, and then–once we feel secure on what we know–she pulls the rug right out and tumbles both readers and characters into a reality that is slightly different. Just different enough…
In this particular story, this twist is ever so satisfying! And!!! There’s groveling! Not for deeds committed, but for not considering the other’s feelings, nor trying to understand why those feelings are so strong and entrenched.
This is another “good book noise” story from Ms Milan. “The Lady Always Wins” gets 8.75 out of 10
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¹ This is unrelated to the fact that I am very grateful to Ms Milan for sharing her knowledge of first amendment law (in her blog, links to her individual posts at the bottom of this post here at Her Hands, My Hands) during the vexatious defamation lawsuit Ellora’s Cave brought against Dear Author and Jane Litte, or my admiration for her professionalism when confronted by people who would be better served keeping their mouths shut and sitting on their hands instead of haranguing people online.