Married to a Rogue
Married to a Rogue was originally published in 2000 under the title Lady Delafont’s Dilemma. It tells the story of an older couple – he’s forty-two, she’s thirty-six – who were desperately in love when they married fifteen years earlier, but who have been living apart for the past five years. The author very thoughtfully explores the reasons behind the breakdown of the marriage and shows us how both protagonists – Baxter and Emily Delafont, the Marquess and Marchioness of Sedgley – come to realize that they both bear a responsibility for the break-up and that neither of them really fought for their marriage as they should have done.
As a second-chance romance, Married to a Rogue works really well. Baxter and Emily were very much in love when they married, had a lot in common, the sex was great – but after a few years when there were no children forthcoming, the rot started to set in. Emily began to withdraw, feeling that Baxter must be blaming her for her inability to conceive. He has no idea she’s blaming herself, but his poisonous mother’s constant needling over his lack of an heir and his unwillingness to tell the woman to take herself off to the dower house, plus the way Emily is gradually becoming a shadow of her former self – something Baxter finds difficult to watch and has no idea how to deal with – begin an insidious erosion of their relationship until, at its lowest point, Baxter more or less orders Emily to go to Yorkshire and stay there.
This aspect of the story is very well handled, and I thought was a splendid exploration of the way in which a relationship can break down for no one, big reason – like one partner having an affair – but through a series of smaller things and misunderstandings that are allowed to fester until eventually, they turn into wounds that are far too big to heal.
The couple’s reconciliation is just as well handled. I won’t say that they never fell out of love with each other, because I think it’s possible they did – but rather that their time apart has allowed them to gain a new appreciation for each other, without the strain of living together and the outside interference, and to prepare the ground for them to fall in love with each other again.
Where the book falls down is in its attempt to be too many things. As well as the central romance, there’s a secondary plotline in which Baxter’s work as a courier and part-time spy leads to several attempts on his life; Emily is considering a dalliance with a dashing young Frenchman, who may not be exactly what he seems; and she’s also trying to protect a young woman from being forced into a distasteful marriage by her mercenary mother. This isn’t an overly long book, and while most of these points are satisfactorily resolved, they make it feel somewhat cluttered, and I’d have preferred to spend a little more time with Emily and Baxter.
Emily is a terrific character, a warm, loving woman who saw her happy future fade away but who has now determined to pick up her life and get on with it. Baxter, however is more problematic. He’s dark, brooding and rather aloof, the epitome of the very masculine romantic hero – yet he fails to see that his utterly obnoxious mother is making his wife’s life a misery and thus doesn’t stand up to her. There’s also the fact that at the beginning of the book, Baxter has returned to London accompanied by his beautiful mistress, a young woman half his age, something which may be a dealbreaker for some readers. He’s been trying to break things off with her for some time, and there’s no hanky-panky once he’s set eyes on Emily again, but his reasons for taking up with her in the first place and his problem in ridding himself of her do make him seem rather weak. He’s not an unattractive character, but his weakness in standing up to those two women – no matter the reason (he doesn’t want to hurt either of them, even his dreadful mother!) is difficult to get past.
If I were rating the book based solely on the romantic elements, then it would be a very strong B, because I thought the portrayal of deterioration of the Sedgleys’ marriage was realistic and heartbreaking, and the author has written them in such a way that it’s easy to root for their reconciliation, which is also very convincing. But taken as a whole, what with all the other plot elements and the fact that the story is told from about six different viewpoints, I’m going to have to lower that a bit. I’d still recommend the book to anyone who enjoys a good, second-chance romance, but the other elements do detract a little from the main storyline.