A Marriage Deal with the Viscount
Bronwyn Scott kicks off her new Allied at the Altar series with A Marriage Deal with the Viscount, which features a pair of engaging, refreshingly different principals who enter into a business arrangement only to discover an unlooked for connection that could threaten everything they’ve worked for.
Conall Everard inherited the title and estates of Viscount Taunton a year earlier on the death of his father. He was stunned to discover that the man he’d loved and looked up to had left the family finances in a truly shocking state, but has to curb his feelings of betrayal and disappointment in order to find a way to start making the money needed to restore Everard Hall, support his mother, supply his sister with a dowry and pay for his brother’s schooling. He has approached the Prometheus Club, a syndicate formed principally of wealthy noblemen investors, with a view to obtaining funding for his scheme to import alpacas and buy a textile mill to process the wool and manufacture cloth. Sadly, however, all but one of the Club’s members voted against backing Conall’s scheme, which leaves him in an incredibly difficult situation. He has sunk every bit of spare money he had into purchasing and importing the alpacas, knowing if he’d not done it quickly, he’d have lost a year’s production time – and without the financial backing he needs he’ll be ruined. Luckily, however he is introduced to the Club’s one dissenting voice – the Marchesa di Cremona – who conducts business through an intermediary using a male pseudonym.
Conall has nothing to lose, and is takes the opportunity to talk about his plans with the lovely Marchesa, who asks intelligent questions and shows a clear understanding of business practices while carefully deflecting any enquires that may have touched on things of a more personal nature.
Sofia Northcott is an old school friend of the daughter-in-law of the Duke of Crowden, but even that can’t do anything to repair her standing in society. Married off to the Marchese di Cremona when she was barely out of the schoolroom, Sofia endured ten years of cruelty and humiliation at her husband’s hands before being granted a divorce under Piedmont law three years earlier and promptly returning home to England. But her former husband is now demanding she return to him and Sofia knows he will stop at nothing to get his own way. The change of regime in Piedmont means that divorce is no longer possible or tolerated and the new king has promised the Marchese a small fortune if he will bring back his errant wife and resume their marriage. Sofia has no wish to return to the Marchese or to Italy, but when, on returning home from a ball one evening, she discovers her home has been ransacked, she is forced to acknowledge that her husband must have discovered her whereabouts, and that she must leave London as quickly as possible. Fortunately, she had already accepted Conall’s invitation to travel to his family seat in order to view his extensive plans for the alpaca project, and they make a hasty departure the next day.
Sofia is unsettled by Conall, who is far from the portly, short, middle-aged eccentric she had expected when told she was to meet with someone interested in alpaca farming. But it’s not his good looks that are the biggest danger, it’s his charm, his obvious kindness and intelligence – and even though Sofia’s experience with the lies and deceit practiced by so many men tells her she cannot afford to be attracted to a man she barely knows, she is nonetheless drawn to him. Yet she is fully aware that no man with aspirations to respectability can afford to associate with a woman of her scandalous reputation. His viscountess must be well-bred, well-trained and above reproach, and as Sofia becomes more and more fond of Conall, she becomes more and more determined that she must put some distance between them before her reputation can tarnish his name and the standing of his mother and sister. When it becomes clear that her husband is in England looking for her, Conall decides that the only way he can protect Sofia is to marry her himself – but can she allow the man she has come to love to make such a sacrifice for her?
A Marriage Deal with the Viscount is an engaging story about a couple of unusual but supremely likeable protagonists. I was pleased to see that Conall, far from being criticised for his desire to go into business, is seen as someone creative, forward-thinking and progressive, and I was particularly impressed with the author’s decision to create a divorcée heroine, something not often come across in historical romance for obvious reasons. Ms. Scott makes some very pertinent observations about what happened to women who did not conform to society’s norms, regardless of their situation, and it’s a sad fact that even today women are often our own worst enemies, far more censorious of other women than many men. In the novel, this attitude is very well illustrated by the way Sofia is regarded with dislike and suspicion by the society ladies who should, really, feel sorrow for her predicament. Instead, because she is beautiful and wealthy she is seen as a threat likely to ‘steal’ a gentleman from one of the current crop of deserving debutantes, her supposed loose morals meaning that she can use sex to entice men where the proper young ladies cannot.
The romance between Sofia and Conall is well-developed, starting as an acknowledgement that the other is physically attractive but with no desire to look beyond that or to pursue anything further. But as they spend time together while at Conall’s home, they begin to look deeper and to feel more than a simple outward attraction. Both of them have been betrayed by people who should have looked out for them and don’t trust easily as a result; I very much enjoyed watching them opening up to one another and learning to that they could, after all, rely on another person.
There’s a little hiccup along the way when Sofia learns Conall has been keeping something from her, but by far the biggest threat is Il Marchese di Cremona, the perfect gothic villain if ever I saw one. He’s rather over the top, but had he not been quite so obvious, then perhaps the threat to Sofia wouldn’t have seemed so dire, so I suppose I can put that down to dramatic license ;)
A Marriage Deal with the Viscount boasts a well-constructed plot that makes the most of the changing world of the mid-nineteenth century in which it is set. Conall and Sofia’s hard-won HEA is well deserved, and the book earns a strong recommendation overall.