A Husband by Law
I think my brain developed a stutter during the reading of this one. Read a few pages with hope, have it dashed, read a few more pages, hope some more, dashed again, and so on. It had so many ways in which to engage the reader and failed at just as many of them – a feat in and of itself, albeit a sad one.
My hopeful feelings began with the premise of the book. Sort of a marriage of convenience meets the road romance. The bride is Ellen Winthrop who has to come from England and needs to get to California where she has family. In order to do so safely, she’s asked to travel with army troops, whose commander won’t allow single women. She marries the troop troublemaker with a heart of gold (variation on the hooker with a heart of gold), Lt. Michael Trent. Though tried and true, the premise is often entertaining, hence my hopeful attitude.
First dashed hopes come from Ellen’s back story. Ellen is the bastard daughter of an Earl and has fled England under a cloud. Okay. Let’s dissect that. She somehow made it from England to Texas (where the story opens) but is too shy and scared to make it any further. And it’s not just the contradictions that had me grinding my teeth, it was also the fact her back story disappears for all intents and purposes. How she got where she is and why could have led to very interesting, and necessary, dramatic tension. Unfortunately, that is never explored.
My hopes were dashed again when a little misunderstanding gets almost resolved then becomes an endless series of the same misunderstanding. It gets so repetitive I thought maybe I was rereading the same sections over and over. Ellen is the unacknowledged daughter of an Earl but Michael thinks she’s too ladylike for an up from the streets guy like him. Michael grew up poor, but went to West Point so Ellen thinks he’s too much of a gentleman for her. Of course they’re burning with lust for each other. Every time they act on that lust they immediately revert to cringe mode.
He: “Now that Ellen had seen his true nature, she’d no doubt leave before the troops headed out.”
She: “How stupid she’d been! How wanton he must think her, insisting that he share the bed with her.”
Okay if it happens once or twice. Irritating to the point of wanting to throw the book if you get to page 253 and read this:
“Why would Michael have told Solly their marriage was only temporary.unless he was ashamed of her?”
So far we have too little, and never altering, character development and a hero/heroine who are both too stupid to live. Th-th-th-a-at’s not all folks! The setting could have weighed strongly in the book’s favor. A trip across the southwest from Texas to California? Plenty to interest a reader, or so you’d think. Instead the characters get tired of riding, set up tents, wander in to the closest town when they are close to a town, visit a Spanish grande’s ranch, have a party, have one skirmish with the enemy and arrive in California. All in just that flat a tone. And if you need another element that’s just as flat, try the villain on for size. No particulars needed, just think Romance 101 cardboard casting and you’ll get the picture.
The subplot involving an experienced camp follower and the army doctor she’s in love with would have made a much more interesting book. Leave the very juvenile Ellen and Michael somewhere on the trail and follow Solly and Katherine to California. That story would have made my stuttering stop.