A Convenient Engagement
One of the most exciting things about reading a début author’s work is the moment when you first open the book, completely unsure of the direction the author will take. A Convenient Engagement begins with a hungover rake exhausted from a night of debauchery, and develops into a lighthearted romp through London and Scotland with some highly entertaining characters.
Gavan Dalreoch, the Earl of Rhone and the rake in question, has an interesting backstory to his dissolute lifestyle. When his mother first came out as a debutante, she ran a bit wild and found herself pregnant (with Gavan) by her married lover. After some deliberation, she married someone else from the Dalreoch clan so that her child could be born legitimate and inherit the earldom from her father. However, poor Gavan had trouble growing up with society giving him funny looks because of his birth, so he’s distanced himself from his clan and his duties as earl…until his cousin Ewan shows up in London to pester him about it.
Although annoyed with Ewan for showing up, the real aggravation to Gavan’s hangover that first morning is the construction going on at the neighboring townhouse. Frustrated with the incessant noise (which, mind you, is only occurring during normal, daylight hours) Gavan marches over to give his new neighbor a piece of his mind. Only, when the door opens to present a lovely young woman, he says something dirty in Latin instead, and then finds himself tossed out onto the street with a burgeoning black eye.
Miss Hannah Howard, whose late father taught her Latin and many other mannish subjects, has been greatly looking forward to coming to London and finally enjoying the freedom her father’s death bestowed upon her. Although she loved him, he grew more controlling and reclusive after her mother’s death, and this is the first time she’s been so far from home. Unfortunately, she’s not making any more friends in London than she did in Suffolk, as she finds people crossing the street to avoid talking to her. Poor Hannah is extremely hurt until Gavan (forced by his cousin to do the right thing) comes by again to explain that all off Society has heard about her punching him and has chosen to ostracize her because of it.
As the episode was mostly Gavan’s fault, he proposes that they align and enter into not a marriage of convenience, but an engagement of convenience. Polite Society will be appeased, Hannah will no longer be an outcast, and before too long she’ll find someone else she wants to marry, break their engagement, and all will be as it should be. Hannah agrees, and the fun begins.
One of the things I liked best about this book was how honest the characters are. Gavan is proclaimed to be a rake, but unlike in many other books where supposed rakes are actually well behaved gentlemen, Gavan (at least in the beginning) seems as dissolute as he is rumored to be. He sends a pair of naked twin ladies flying out his front door that first morning, and his drinking habits don’t reform the instant he meets Hannah, although they do improve eventually. It takes time for him to give up his rakish ways and realize he actually wants a life with Hannah, but that realization does come naturally with time. He’s constantly amused by his convenient fiancée, and there’s definitely a spark between them which goes a long way toward convincing Gavan (and the reader) that they belong together.
Hannah, for her part, is a charming, guileless young woman who is all the more attractive for her sharp wit. When Gavan proposes the engagement and concocts a story that has her punching him due to offense at the naked ladies fleeing from his house, Hannah immediately informs him that, in order to get back into her good graces he will need to present her with some lavish gifts and do some serious groveling. Hannah also has a romantic heart hiding behind her practical exterior, which Gavan immediately notices and takes into account when giving her those lavish gifts.
In fact, the only real thing keeping this amusing novel from being a DIK for me is the ending. After they’ve returned to Gavan’s estate in Scotland for a visit and both realized how much they’ve fallen for each other, Hannah declares that she must leave and formally break off the engagement. It’s not a split-second decision—Hannah has been worried, ever since she realized how Gavan felt about her, that if they married and she passed away, he would become like her father. I could see some logic in that, based on her history, but was a bit put off when, rather than discussing it with Gavan logically, she ran off then ran back when she decided she would give their marriage a go anyway.
In any case, A Convenient Engagement proved to be quite an enjoyable read. Début authors can be a hit or miss, but happily this book proved to be a definite hit. I’ll be on the lookout for the next release from Ms. Bell.