The first thing that attracted me to His Convenient Marchioness was the cover image, which indicates that the central couple is slightly older than the norm for romance novels. I’m always ready to read a romance between more mature people, and sure enough, I quickly discovered that the hero – a widower who lost his wife and three children to smallpox on one devastating day eleven years earlier – has just turned fifty, and the heroine, a widow with two children aged ten and six, is thirty-two. Giles, the Marquess of Huntercombe (known as Hunt) had not planned on marrying again, but the recent death of his remaining heir (his nineteen-year-old half-brother) means that re-marriage is no longer optional – as his two sisters take great pleasure in constantly pointing out. But Hunt has no intention of marrying one of the schoolroom misses they keep parading before him, telling them instead that a woman – perhaps a widow – in her thirties would be much more to his taste and be more likely to understand that he is offering a marriage of convenience only.
Lady Emma Lacy lost her husband over a year earlier and is living with her two children, Harry (ten) and Georgina (six) in very straitened circumstances. While both she and her late husband hail from noble families (he was the second son of a duke, she the daughter of an earl), the long-standing enmity between their respective fathers meant their runaway match saw them both cast out and cut off financially. The ensuing scandal meant the couple lived on the fringes of society; they were happy together, but now Lacy is dead and Emma can barely make ends meet.
Hunt and Emma encounter each other in Hatchards bookshop where she has taken Harry and Georgie to choose books from the library. Hunt recognises Emma but cannot place her, and is surprised at the frisson of attraction he feels towards her; and later, when the children discover his dog waiting for him outside he is further surprised to find himself suggesting they walk in the park together so that the children can play with the hound. Emma is guarded and careful to remain somewhat aloof during their walk – and it’s only afterwards that Hunt realises she must have thought he was assessing her suitability as a potential mistress. Wanting to correct her error, Hunt decides to make a brief call to set things right – and even though he knows he should not even be considering the idea, finds himself suggesting to Emma that she might be what he’s looking for in a wife. Somewhat stunned, Emma isn’t quite sure what to think, although she can’t deny that Hunt is a charming, attractive man, whose smile melts her insides – and she agrees to a meet him again.
Emma’s life is suddenly upended by an unexpected visit from her mother – whom she hasn’t seen in over a decade – and then by the appearance of her father-in-law, the Duke of Keswick, who tells her that owing to the death of his eldest son, Harry is now his heir and should go to live with him. Emma refuses unequivocally, but Keswick is prepared to fight dirty; even though Lacy’s will stipulated that Emma was to be their children’s sole guardian and Keswick was to have nothing to do with them, it’s unlikely a court of law will favour Emma – a woman rumoured to have loose morals – over a duke. Terrified, Emma turns to Hunt, who insists that the surest way he can protect Emma and the children is by marrying her; but Emma is reluctant to embroil him in the gossip that will no doubt follow the news of his marriage to a woman dogged by scandal. But Hunt is persistent, reminding himself, when Emma finally accepts him, that he’s about to embark on a practical, sensible partnership of the sort he has been looking for.
Marriage of convenience stories are my catnip, and I particularly liked the set up for this one, which isn’t one I’ve come across recently – if ever. It’s obvious that Hunt and Emma are smitten with each other right from the start, but Hunt believes his capacity for love died along with his family, and Emma, who had dearly loved her first husband, is not sure a marriage without love is right for her. She also knows the gossip circulating about her could tarnish Hunt’s good name and is reluctant to have it dragged through the mud, but her father-in-law’s threats make it impossible for her to refuse Hunt’s proposal. She is, at least, safe in the knowledge that Hunt is an honourable, kind man who will be a good father to her children and will provide a strong male role model for Harry as he grows to manhood.
Ms. Rolls does a very good job of developing the romance between Hunt and Emma, even though I found his mentioning marriage at only their second or third meeting to be a bit of a stretch. Thankfully, however, the courtship itself isn’t quite so rushed and the couple are able to spend time getting to know each other a little before the author cranks up the drama with the intrusion of Keswick and his nasty threats into Emma’s life. Hunt – of course – deals with those threats admirably, and is then able to go about the business of adjusting to his life as a husband and step-father, which is again not something I’ve often come across in an historical romance, and is one of the parts of the story I enjoyed most. He isn’t perfect and he makes mistakes, but there’s no question he wants the best for both Harry and Georgie, and that he cares deeply for Emma, in spite of his continual reminders to himself that his is a marriage made for mutual convenience. The fact he desires his wife – and she him – is a nice bonus, of course, but he has no wish for any emotional entanglements… yep, like so many other heroes of his ilk, he can’t see what’s staring him in the face. I’ll also add that I’m not normally a fan of children in romances, but Harry and Georgie are well–written and have key roles in the story rather than just existing as precocious plot-moppets.
The one false note in the novel is struck when the author divulges the degree of guilt Hunt carries over the death of his half-brother and the reasons behind it. It’s an unnecessary plot point; there is already enough going on in the story and it felt as though the author was throwing in the kitchen sink for good measure simply to give Hunt something to beat himself up about (as if losing his wife and children to disease wasn’t hard enough).
Apart from that, though, His Convenient Marchioness is a lovely example of a favourite trope and the two principals read as people who are mature in their outlook as well as in years. It’s an easy, entertaining and well-put together read, perfect for curling up with on a dull winter’s afternoon.
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