A Too Convenient Marriage
In her companion novel to last year’s A Debt Paid in Marriage, Georgie Lee picks up the story of Justin Connor, whom we met in the earlier book as an employee and friend of its hero, Philip Rathbone. Like that book, A Too Convenient Marriage is set largely away from the world of the ton and the aristocracy, featuring characters from the merchant class who are working hard to make their own way in the world.
While Justin doesn’t regret or in any way resent working for his friend, he wants to branch out on his own and to that end, put a large sum money into an investment venture which went sour when the ship carrying the goods which were supposed to give him his start in business was lost at sea. Even though he could not afford such a loss, Justin remains undaunted and is still determined to go into business for himself, no matter the opinion of his current paramour who has just turned down Justin’s proposal of marriage because she has no faith in him or his ability to make something of himself.
Bitter and disappointed, Justin has no time to indulge either of those feelings when his carriage door is yanked open, a young woman jumps inside and insists they drive off immediately. Not in the best of moods, Justin refuses although he can’t help noticing the interloper’s agitated state, which is explained very shortly afterwards by the appearance of her father, the Duke of Rockland and her half-brother, the Marquess of Sutton, who berate her and all but drag her away – although not until Justin has given the blustering marquess a black-eye for his mistreatment of the lady. Keen to avoid scandal, the duke asks Justin to call on him the following day and Justin, seeing a business opportunity, agrees, still curious as to why the daughter of a duke was so desperate to get away that she would jump into a stranger’s carriage.
All becomes clear when Justin pays his visit to the ducal residence the following morning. The young woman is Miss Susanna Lambert, the duke’s illegitimate daughter, whom he has housed since the death of her mother, who was shrewd enough to have made it his legal obligation to do so. But this does not mean she was able to ensure that her daughter was treated kindly; Susanna’s life has been made miserable by the duchess and her daughter, who treat her like an unpaid servant and belittle her constantly while her father looks the other way. When Lord Howsham started to show an interest in her, Susanna thought she saw a way to get away from the Rocklands once and for all, and even though she wasn’t especially fond of, or attracted to him, allowed his attentions – and more. The duke, wary of further gossip concerning his family, wants to get rid of Susanna as much as she wants to leave, and seeing his chance, offers Justin Susanna’s hand and dowry.
Justin is suspicious, but Susanna is both lovely and intelligent – and quickly demonstrates a clear head for business, so he thinks “why not?” and agrees to the proposal. The wedding is to take place as soon as possible, before any news of Susanna’s dalliance with Howsham can leak out, and it very quickly becomes apparent to both Justin and Susanna that they have made a good bargain. Not only are they very attracted to each other, they find it easy to talk and for the first time in a very long time, Justin has someone who is prepared to believe in him and support his plans and ambitions. Having been used to having his ideas scorned and shot-down by his disgruntled, inebriated and elderly father, and been rejected by the woman he’d hoped to marry, Justin is awed and humbled by the fact that Susanna, a virtual stranger, can think so well of him. Susanna, too, finds much to be pleased about, discovering in Justin an honourable, intelligent companion, a man who understands her need to escape her horrid family and doesn’t judge her for her past mistakes. As a couple, they work very well together, growing to like and love each other and being openly communicative and supportive. But of course, this can’t continue, or it’d be a much shorter book, so just before the wedding, Susanna makes an unwelcome discovery which is bound to prove a Big Obstacle to their happiness and which must be overcome before all can end happily.
I enjoyed the story overall, although it is quite repetitive in places, especially when it comes to Susanna’s treatment by the duke and his family and the way she was – and still is – regarded by society as the lowest of the low because of her illegitimacy. The author is, unfortunately, quite correct about the stigma that attached to such a thing at the time, it’s just that it comes up so often – how hateful Lady Rockland is, how Susanna’s own grandfather berated her for being a bastard, how Susanna had known no love or affection after her mother died – that I felt I was being hit over the head with it.
Justin is an engaging hero, a caring, considerate man with insecurities of his own but who is determined to succeed. His reaction to the Big Obstacle is understandable, but fortunately, Ms Lee doesn’t allow the couples’ difficulties to go on for too long, showing clearly that this is a pair who are so well suited that they will always find their way back to one another.
The book is generally well-written and I particularly liked the relationship that developed between Susanna and Justin’s father as well as the friendship that exists between Justin and Philip Rathbone. The romance is nicely developed and makes good use of the marriage-of-convenience trope in a slightly different way in that the principals actually like each other and look set to make a really good start to their lives together. A Too Convenient Marriage is perhaps not a book I’ll re-visit, but it’s a quick, undemanding read and a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours.