Married to the Viscount
You know those authors that you think you’d probably like? You’ve definitely caught some good buzz and read a review or two that sounded interesting, but somehow you’ve never managed to actually getting around to trying her. I’ve meant to try Sabrina Jeffries for quite some time and, if I’m disappointed that I’m just now catching on to a fun author, my disappointment is decidedly offset by thoughts of the backlist I have to explore.
What made Married to the Viscount an enjoyable read for me were two incredibly likable characters: An independent, smart, and thoroughly American (her mother was even a native American) heroine and a stuffy, overly responsible, quintessentially English nice guy hero. If the book flagged a bit (and it did), I simply can’t find it in my heart to grade her down too much for it since the most likely cause is the author’s refusal to include one of those standard issue suspense subplots and to keep her focus squarely on her main characters.
When Spencer Law, Viscount Ravenwood, meets physician’s daughter Abigail Mercer in her native Philadelphia, even though he won’t even come close to admitting it, he falls in love virtually at first sight. But with a position as Deputy Home Secretary and a personal promise to himself never to marry, he returns to England without doing anything about his growing feelings.
Fortunately for Spencer, a rare drunken evening with his brother Nat the night before his departure for England clues Nat into Spencer’s true state of mind. Since Nat is also convinced that Abigail more than returns Spencer’s sentiments, his frustration at his brother’s determination to leave is more than understandable. But what’s a loving younger brother to do?
Spencer finds out some months later when Abigail unexpectedly appears at his London townhouse in the midst of his brother’s engagement dinner. The already irregular evening – Nat is mysteriously missing from his own celebration – is made even more so when Abigail introduces herself as the new Viscountess Ravenwood. Nat, it seems, forged love letters supposedly from his brother, letters romantic enough to ultimately convince Abigail to “marry” Spencer with Nat standing in as the proxy groom.
Clearly, Spencer and Abigail find themselves in a major predicament. To start, the politically ambitious Spencer can ill afford any scandal (and the true circumstances of his marriage would, indeed, be damaging). For Abigail’s part, she is virtually penniless since Nat has full possession of her dowry and, to make matters worse, she doesn’t even have the assets she needs to bring to market the patent medicine created by her father. Equally unclear are the missing Nat’s motives: Was he simply out to get his hands on Abigail’s dowry and her now deceased father’s business or were his intentions something more benign? Since the answers can’t be found without Nat’s assistance, both Spencer and Abigail agree to continue their sham marriage until the missing brother can be found and matters settled.
To be honest, the circumstances of the marriage and all of its accompanying ins and outs are sometimes too complicated and occasionally dull. Fortunately, once Spencer and Abigail are living together in the same house, the action shifts to the far more interesting subject of the relationship between the reluctant couple. From the very first moment he sees Abigail, Spencer loves everything about her. But, with a deep personal secret that has led to a firm determination never to marry, he simply can’t afford to be charmed once again by her – as he terms it – naive American optimism.
Once equally captivated by Spencer (so captivated, in fact, that she agreed to the marriage in the first place), Abigail finds little to recognize in the stuffy London nobleman. But what Abigail doesn’t know is that his surface rejection of her isn’t rooted in his distaste for her humble background, but is instead the product of his own insecurity. Though I generally don’t like “big secrets,” for me, at any rate, this one worked. Clearly, something has to stand in the way of the couple’s happiness in order for there to be a 384-page book and, even though things do slow down for a bit, I found myself having more patience with the secret storyline than I might have had with a half-baked “spy” subplot.
As characters, both Spencer and Abigail are fully three-dimensional with feelings and motivations that always rang true. Spencer is strait-laced, but believable and appealing. There are reasons that even his closest friends tease him for never laughing and it seems appropriate that such a man would find love with a far more outgoing (and far less repressed) woman. Abigail, too, is different from your standard issue American-in-England heroine. She isn’t a society miss, she isn’t spoiled, she isn’t wealthy, and she’s something you don’t come across to often in stories like this – racially mixed.
Ms. Jeffries has also assembled an unusually enjoyable cast of secondary characters, in particular, an astute gossip columnist who aids Abigail on matters financial and Nat on matters of the heart (there’s a childhood love and a fiancee). Also along for the ride are a cast of characters I’m certain must have featured in earlier books – stories I’m definitely looking forward to reading.
If you’ve read and enjoyed Ms. Jeffries before, you’ll definitely want to check out Married to the Viscount. If she’s new to you (as she was me) and you like European Historicals with a focus on characters and don’t mind a wallpaper approach to history, Ms. Jeffries is a writer you’ll probably want to try.