At Last Comes Love
Duncan Pennethorne, the Earl of Sheringford, left London five years ago as the subject of a most juicy piece of scandal. Upon wooing a beautiful young woman – in what seemed to be a love match, no less – he practically left her at the altar only to run away with his future brother-in-law’s wife. They live in seclusion until she finally died of what Sheringford suspects is a loss of will to live. He is summoned home by his grandfather, who reminds him of a rash promise he made years ago: he must marry a respectable woman by the time his grandfather turns eighty or else risk disinheritance. Unfortunately his grandfather turns eighty in a fortnight, which leaves him in a bit of a time constraint.
Margaret Huxtable is thirty and verging on spinsterhood, dreading the day when she’ll become dependent on her family and be known as poor Aunt Margaret. One day, she receives the news she’s been dreading: her former fiancé has returned to London. Passionately in love with him years ago, she refused to marry him because of his imminent return to war. She had to raise and support her siblings and could not abandon them just to follow a soldier husband. While abroad, he married a Spanish woman and had a child with her. Now a widower, he has returned to London to get back into Margaret’s good graces. Naturally, Margaret has absolutely no intention of allowing Crispin Dew the satisfaction of knowing her unattached state, and announces that she is secretly engaged, so she must (quite unfortunately) decline his advances. She isn’t worried that her lie will be exposed; the Marquess of Allingham has proposed to her many times, and this season she will simply accept him. After all, she doesn’t want to be lonely forever, does she?
Unfortunately, her plan goes awry when she finds out that Allingham is engaged to a woman he met during the winter. This bomb is dropped on her during one of the grandest balls of the season, and, feeling utterly humiliated and doomed, she rushes out of the ballroom, colliding with Sheringford in her haste. The slightly drunk Sheringford takes one look at her, deems her worthy, and proposes marriage. To his surprise, she accepts. The next day, she adds her own request to his proposal: because they are strangers, he must woo her to the best of his ability until the last day possible, upon which she will decide whether she will marry him or not. Accepting her ultimatum, Sheringford knows he risks a great deal in her, but is confident she’ll see his way.
Margaret and Duncan together are one of the most enjoyable couples I’ve read this year. They’re both smart, sensible, and have senses of humor that play off each other very well. Separately, they don’t hold up quite as well under scrutiny. Margaret is such a good girl that I was happy that she finally finds her happily-ever-after. She’s just a teensy bit too perfect, even taking into account her endearing rebellious streak. While he’s extremely honorable and kind, Duncan’s reasons for running off with a married woman were a little thin to me. They’re acceptable, but only if I didn’t think closely about it. His method of divulging his sordid past (which is hardly dishonorable to begin with) in little segments was tiring, and I just wanted to yell at him to tell Margaret the whole story already! I was basically reading a plotline that was trying to create tension out of nothing. I was also not convinced that his heart should be so scarred by what happened to him in the interim that he became afraid to love again. Margaret has a good reason to have trust issues, but it seems Duncan’s problem is based on nothing substantial.
This is less of a “couple” book and more of a family-centered story. However, the family in the story is touchingly supportive on both sides, and the ferocious, soft-at-heart grandfather was a source of sweet humor throughout. My only real complaint about the story is that I would have liked more focus on Duncan and Margaret’s relationship after marriage. The whole period of their whirlwind courtship and hasty marriage was fast-paced and intense, which I enjoyed very much, and I looked forward to the time after their marriage when they really got down to falling in love. Instead, Duncan gets stricken with a desire to tell the truth in bits and pieces, which leads to a lot of angsting on his part. His child is also introduced at this point, which leads to the typical tiresome conflict between a child and his new mother.
Yes, there is a child in this story, and I never like the way kids act in romances. For a four-year-old, Toby is horrifyingly eloquent. He also has the whole “You’re not my mommy!” thing towards Margaret, which we all know will culminate in a scene in which he runs sobbing into her arms yelling “Mama!” I don’t think he brings anything important to the story, except to reiterate how good of a man Duncan really is, which we know already. If there’s one thing I learned from reading this book, it’s that Duncan Pennethorne is a Very Good Person.
There are a few confrontations between Duncan and his “wronged” ex-bride, which had potential to be satisfyingly full of scenes exposing the true villains, had Duncan not chosen to be his usual righteous, honorable self and ultimately let the bad guys escape unscathed. Also, the story took a very silly turn when Duncan and Margaret decide to subject themselves to a formal courtship period after the wedding to get to know each other (i.e. kissing only, no sex, lots of moonlit walks). Their determined efforts at strict courtship are awkward at best, and don’t bring out the best in each other. There are many forced conversations regarding their dreams of love and family, which seem slightly tinted with the melodramatic flair of old romances. This couple is definitely much more romantic – naturally romantic – when they’re just being themselves.
All in all, At Last Comes Love is an enjoyable read, and I plan to pick up the first two books in the series. While the story is somewhat predictable, the Huxtable family is truly a dream – supportive and loving without seeming a bit contrived.