Just Wicked Enough
Just Wicked Enough starts with an unusual and riveting scene, but unfortunately, the rest of the book does not live up to its initial promise.
We’ve all read romances where the aristocratic hero bemoans the fact that he has to figuratively “auction” himself and his title in marriage to some mushroom’s daughter in order to bring his estates back into prosperity. Michael Tremayne, the Marquess of Falconridge, does this literally. He knows that great infusions of cash are needed to save his estates and his family from penury. He also knows that there are lots of obscenely wealthy, title-hungry Americans in town for the Season. He decides to save time – and avoid the hypocrisy – and calls together the fathers of marriageable young ladies to decide the question. It is an arresting scene, with Michael standing in stoic and seemingly aloof silence, hiding his humiliation and disgust for everyone involved – including himself – as the no-nonsense businessmen place a dollar value on his title and his person. James Rose, a Wall Street banker, wins Michael for his daughter Kate and they are quickly married, meeting for the first time at the altar.
Kate has steadfastly refused to take an interest in the Season or the men who might be interested in her and her money, for she is nursing a broken heart. Kate’s mother is a rabid social climber who refuses to contemplate anything less than a duke or marquess for her two daughters, so when Kate fell in love several years ago with a younger son of a viscount, her parents put an end to it. He has now married another and, desperate to get her mother off her back, Kate agrees to marry Michael.
No one told Michael that his new bride is not a virgin, though he has a secret he is desperate to keep as well: his mother has severe dementia and resides in an asylum, a very expensive one. So Kate and Michael begin their marriage as strangers keeping deep secrets. Kate insists on getting to know Michael better before consummating the union, stating that one should know something about their partner – like maybe their favorite color? – before becoming intimate. Michael makes discovering Kate’s favorite color his mission and, in one of the fun bits in the novel, ends every night by guessing a new color before they retire to their separate beds.
I like Marriage of Convenience stories and the give and take between strangers getting to know each other and falling in love. However, there is very little give and take here, as Kate holds all the power. Her father has arranged the marriage settlements so that Kate, who is very good at numbers, is completely in charge of the couple’s finances. She pores over his books, authorizes payments, and sets things in order. I have no problem with this – she is obviously better at it than Michael is. But even after all is in order, Michael must still apply to his wife for everything – even money to pay an innkeeper when they travel to his estate.
Another of Mr. Rose’s stipulations is that Kate be happy or the money will be withheld, so Michael’s constant refrain to Kate regarding any decision is, “If it pleases you.” Michael is so passive a character I found it hard to warm up to him. He does make attempts to get to know Kate, but she views him with such suspicion and cynicism that I had a hard time warming up to her as well.
The writing is smooth, consistent, polished. There are some fun and poignant moments, and some nice love scenes. But my dissatisfaction with the unequal relationship and inability to warm up to the leads make Just Wicked Enough a just slightly above average read for me.