The Improper Bride
I’m usually leery of jumping into the middle of a series, but the plot of The Improper Bride intrigued me. Thankfully, this book stands alone very well, and even better, it was a fun read. If you like romances that deal with class differences, this would definitely be one to try.
The book opens dramatically as Henry Eldridge, Marquess of Riverton, is disfigured and gravely injured in a fire. As we move into the main portion of the book, we learn that Henry is closeted in his rooms and his recovery appears uncertain. Henry’s doctor theorizes that if he can be kept busy with a task that engages his mind, then he may very well make it back to at least some sort of normal life.
That’s where Cassandra Davis, his intelligent and practical housekeeper, steps in. Though certainly a commoner, Cassandra’s background differs somewhat from the average housekeeper. Her father was the village schoolteacher and so Cassandra received a little more education than many house servants, and she has a quest for still further knowledge. In her small quarters at Henry’s home, Cassandra keeps a German cuckoo clock that was a family heirloom and she decides that the perfect task to keep Henry’s mind engaged would be something that she dreams of doing as well – Cassandra wants to learn German.
It’s an unusual therapy, but it works. Things start off awkwardly. Given that Henry is emotionally raw from his ordeal and the earnest Cassandra is all too aware of the class differences between them, this would seem inevitable. It probably doesn’t help that Henry was known for his coldness and arrogance even before the fire. However, they build a rapport during their lessons and one can see a friendship starting to form as Cassandra broadens Henry’s perspective at least as much as he influences her. In some hands, this could have been supremely cheesy. However, Maxton does a good job of making this feel charming rather than hackneyed. It helps that in Henry’s character arc, she had him thaw quite a bit, but she didn’t turn him from the frosty marquess into too cuddly of a teddy bear.
The upstairs-downstairs conflict inherent in a romance between an aristocrat and his housekeeper also receives good treatment. At 32, Cassandra is widowed and her life has made her deeply practical. Even though she feels herself more and more drawn to Henry, she also recognizes immediately all the problems inherent in such a relationship. After all, Henry must expect to marry within his own class and produce an heir. From her point of view, the best she can look forward to is to be his mistress, a position which would undermine her authority as housekeeper. At worst, she could end up losing her job with no reference, something which would have been catastrophic in that time period.
Henry understands the class issue as well, and the tension between privilege and poverty plays an important role in the story. With such a large class chasm between them, the leads would almost certainly require some form of deus ex machina or dramatic event to allow them to be together. In a sense, they do get something along that line, but they still don’t have an easy time of it. The story ends on quite a dramatic note, and I couldn’t help feeling as though Cassandra and Henry had earned every bit of their HEA.
A few scenes in the book, particularly at a house party held by Henry, felt ever so slightly off to me. However, aside from that little niggle, I enjoyed this story immensely. I’ve not read any of Maxton’s other novels, but after this one, I certainly intend to.