I know when I pick up a book by Marguerite Kaye that it’s going to be something different and A Wife Worth Investing In - the second book in her Penniless Brides of Convenience Series – is no exception. It can be read as a stand-alone but I know I am definitely going to go back and read book one now and will read book three when it comes out!
Owen Harrington and Phoebe Brannagh meet one night at a restaurant in Paris. Phoebe is being inconvenienced by some drunken lords and Owen steps in and coolly sends the men on their way, joining Phoebe while she waits for her friend Pascal to arrive. Phoebe is living her dream life, and has left England and family behind in order to pursue her passion to become a chef. She is working with her culinary hero, Pascal Solignac, at one of Paris’ premier restaurants and planning to open an establishment with him soon - he providing the genius, she the funds. Owen is captivated by Phoebe’s joie de vivre and sense of purpose, having left London to find his own.
I’m here because I’m sick of both London and my life there, but that makes me sound like an over-indulged, arrogant narcissist... I’m chasing rainbows, like you, though I don’t have any particular pot of gold in mind yet - not so much discover who I am as who I might become. Lord, that really does sound pompous.
Owen inherited a fortune at a young age and has been the “toast of society, both high and low” since attaining his majority. He wants something more; he recognizes that he has been enormously lucky and what looks like a charmed life is, he realizes, really a “feckless and shallow one”. He is inspired by Phoebe (and quite attracted to her, as she is to him). As per An Affair to Remember, they agree to meet in two years, at this same spot, to see what has become of their dreams.
Fast forward two years and a few months. Owen did not come to the meeting and Phoebe has lost everything - her job, her home, her reputation. Pascal took her money and her virtue and then destroyed her reputation. She leaves Paris in shame and poverty and makes her way to Owen’s residence hoping he can help her get a job and curious as to what happened to him. Owen reluctantly agrees to see her, and Phoebe is shocked by how he looks - as if he’s aged ten years, still handsome, but gaunt and weak.
I had an accident. My recuperation has been prolonged. As you can see for yourself, I am not the man I once was. And that is all there is to be said.
Phoebe tells Owen everything that has happened to her and asks for his help. She remembers him talking about how he was one of society's darlings and she's sure he will be able to help find her work at a restaurant. Owen, however, does not go out in public any more but he still has his wealth and business connections. He does not go out in public any more but he thinks he might have an idea, and asks her to return in the morning so as to give him time to think it through.
Society has been expecting Owen to marry a family friend for years. Nothing formal has ever been arranged but Owen is afraid that the woman in question is nonetheless tied to him and that she could do better than him. If he marries Phoebe, he can help her and set his intended bride free.
Phoebe returns in the morning and Owen convinces her to a make a marriage of convenience.
A Wife Worth Investing In is an absorbing read. Ms. Kaye writes lovely descriptions of the food Phoebe cooks and serves and the markets she frequents, which is a definite plus for foodie-readers. But the real drama is the interaction between Phoebe and Owen and Phoebe trying to help Owen recover from whatever happened to him.
Phoebe and Owen are a lovely team. After being so successful in Paris and then having her dream so ruthlessly destroyed, there is much work Phoebe needs to do to regain her self-worth and Owen is her main cheerleader. Phoebe's self-worth has also been undermined by her family, however well-meaning, questioning her choices and waiting in the wings to rescue her. Owen has his own demons to overcome - mentally, physically and spiritually - and Phoebe becomes his lodestar.
Ms. Kaye pulls it all together beautifully, and her development of Owen is particularly masterful. We watch as he is drawn to Phoebe’s light, as he supports and rebuilds her self-worth, as he struggles to live with his ailment, as he quietly falls apart behind the scenes and as he eventually lets love in, even in his broken state. Oh readers, the angst!
Like some of Ms. Kaye’s other novels, things are not all rainbows and butterflies at the end of A Wife Worth Investing In. Sometimes things cannot be solved or tidied up in neat packages. Some things must be continually overcome and this is a story of committing to love knowing all that, which makes this book all the more beautiful to read. I wholeheartedly recommend it!
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