Blame it on Bath
When I was growing up, my mother made it clear there was a path for nice girls who wanted to wed some day. One met a wonderful man, fell in love, married, and then had sex. In Blame it on Bath, Ms. Linden’s latest enjoyable entry in her The Truth about the Duke series, heroine Katherine Howe follows that path only to find her husband, Captain Gerard de Lacey, has not. Gerard does wait until after he weds Katherine to bed her. But, much to Katherine’s dismay, he completely skips the falling in love part and appears quite content to do so.
Gerard is the youngest of the Duke of Durham’s three sons. The three men are currently living under a cloud of suspicion dubbed by society as the Durham Dilemma. On his deathbed, their father confessed a whopping secret: He’d married as a young man then separated from but never divorced the woman. Thus, his marriage to his sons’ mother, the Duchess of Durham, long dead, was quite possibly an invalid one. The Duke never spoke to anyone of his early marriage, but in the months before he died he’d been receiving blackmail letters threatening to publish proof of his earlier union. Were it to be proven the Duke was indeed married to someone other than Gerard’s mother and that woman had been alive when he wed the Duchess, his three sons would be illegitimate and would lose their fortunes, titles, and entailed properties.
Gerard’s middle brother, Edward, the hero of the first book in the series, One Night in London, is trying to resolve the problem through Britain’s legal system. Gerard, who has spent his adult life in the army, has no patience for that slow moving process and he decides to track down the blackmailer himself. He also plans to find and wed a wealthy woman before the Durham Dilemma scandal further taints his prospects. If his family does lose everything, Gerard will be left with only a small estate in Cornwall and an annual income of a thousand pounds a year. He, who has grown up as a Duke’s son, doesn’t want a life of comparative poverty and sees marrying for money as the only sure solution to his looming misfortune.
Two of the four blackmail letters were posted from Bath, and so there Gerald decides to go. On his way, he stops and spends the night at an inn on the outskirts of London. He is musing over his troubles when there is a knock on the door of his room. A servant woman begs him to come to the inn’s private parlor and meet with her mistress, whose name she does not give. Gerard whose “abiding weakness was curiosity,” goes to the parlor and encounters a woman (he thinks) he’s never met before. She introduces herself as Katherine Howe and, after swearing him to secrecy about their meeting, asks him to marry her.
Katherine is a widow of thirty, considered by most to be a plain, quiet, and serious woman. Her husband died less than a year ago, and she, much to her horror, is being pressured into marrying his heir, a cold and dour man named Lucien Howe. Lucien is desperate to marry Katherine. Katherine is a wealthy woman — she inherited over a hundred thousand pounds from her father. Her husband, Viscount Howe, left Lucien saddled with debt, much of which is owed to Katherine (the note was originally held by Katherine’s father and when he died, it became hers.) Lucien has no way to pay the money he owes and sees marriage to Katherine as the only way he can escape penury. Katherine’s mother Mary, an unpleasant, conniving, vain woman, also wants Katherine to wed Lucien so that she, Mary, will remain the mother-in-law of a wealthy peer. Katherine would rather die than marry the grim and ascetic Lucien but she is increasingly anxious that he and her mother will somehow force her to do so.
So, knowing of the Durham Dilemma, she seeks out Gerard and offers him her fortune in exchange for his hand. Unlike Gerard, Katherine knows the night she meets him in the inn is not the first time the two have met. Katherine grew up in the same town as Gerard and, twelve years earlier, when Katherine was caught walking in downpour, Gerard came upon her on the road, swept her up onto his horse, and gave her a ride back to her home. That act of consideration on his part stirred something in Katherine’s heart and she’s been in love with him ever since. As she explains it, he was the first man to ever put his arms around her willingly. Her marriage was not a close one; for a dozen years she’s thought of Gerard as ”Her knight, her hero, the ideal man she had kept in heart.” When she learned of his situation, she decided to pursue him. Not only would marriage to him free her from Lucien’s grasp; finally she’d be with the man she loves. She tells Gerard nothing of their past or her feelings and presents marriage as simply a convenient exchange of her wealth for his protection.
Gerard, after speaking to Katherine’s solicitor and making sure all she told him is true, meets Katherine three nights later and not only agrees to marry her, but says the two will wed the next day. He tells her theirs will be a real marriage and, if they are blessed, he hopes for children. He kisses her and makes it clear he hopes they both find pleasure in their marital bed. Katherine, who barely tolerated that part of her first marriage, is first shocked and then terrified. She so wants Gerard to grow to care for her as she does for him and she worries her lack of experience will cause him to turn to other women as her husband did. Gerard however has enough experience for them both, and once they’ve married and arrived in Bath — where Gerard works to track down the blackmailer — he and Katherine do find bliss in bed together. Gerard is thrilled— he has financial security and a great sex life — but Katherine, as the days go by, is not. She wants to be more than just her husband’s lover; she wants to be his confidant and in time, love.
I liked the relationship between Gerard and Katherine. Gerard, whose mother died when he was five, hasn’t ever considered the idea of loving a woman, let alone sharing with her his thoughts and feelings. He grew up with a stern father and two older brothers then spent his life in the army. Women for him are for sex and – if you marry one – children. He likes being with Katherine, but when they are together, he’d prefer they make love rather than converse. Furthermore, he is afraid to trust anyone, even his wife, with what he is doing in Bath. It takes time and Katherine’s growing displeasure with him for him to realize there could, perhaps even should, be more to his marriage than just erotic delight. Gerard is a good man; it’s satisfying to watch him become a great husband.
Katherine, before marrying Gerard, has never been with anyone who sought out her company. Her mother constantly demeans Katherine in petty and subtle ways, and her husband, in general, ignored her. She is unused to asking for anything for herself; the act of pursuing Gerard was the most astonishing thing she’d ever done. It’s lovely to see her, while living in Bath and away from the noxious influence of her mother, come into her own. She makes friends, learns to dress herself in ways that make her feel pretty and, over time, confronts her husband with what she truly needs from him.
The strength of this book lies in its love story. The mystery, as it was in the first book, isn’t very compelling. There isn’t enough progress made in solving either who sent the letters and why, or in learning what happened to the Duke’s long lost first wife. I found the suspense plot uninteresting compared to the charming one of the lovers. It didn’t surprise me that by the book’s end, Gerard is content to turn the problem over to his eldest brother Charlie, the current Duke, who has the most to lose should the de Lacey sons become legal bastards. I look forward to reading the next title in the series, however, The Way to a Duke’s Heart, coming out this August. It is Charlie’s tale and he, in the first two books, is an intriguing character. I’m hoping he will be the son who presents the Durham Dilemma with flair.