Marry in Scandal
Readers first met Lily Rutherford, heroine of Marry in Scandal (the second book in Anne Gracie’s Marriage of Convenience series), in Marry in Haste, where she was introduced as one of the two somewhat unruly sisters of its hero, Cal, Earl of Ashendon. Now eighteen years old, Lily, her sister, Rose and their niece, Georgiana (who is of an age with them) are all partaking of the London season under the chaperonage of their dragon of an Aunt Augusta, who orders them about, and bullies them (or tries to) into doing whatever she wants them to.
Being the quieter of the three, Lily is usually the main target for Aunt Augusta’s lectures and disparaging comments, many of which relate to the fact that Lily has never been able to learn to read or write, and was regarded by their late father as stupid. Lily’s ‘shortcoming’ is not widely known however, and given she is an heiress, their aunt holds out hope that there may be a man out there who is desperate enough to marry her. All Lily wants is someone who will love and care for her, and whom she can love and care for in return, yet Aunt Agatha insists on thrusting the trio of young ladies into the paths of the sorts of cold, ennui-laden, self-important gentlemen they dislike – and Lily’s refusal to attend the opera so she can meet a duke and two of his friends all but sends the older lady into apoplexy.
It’s unusual for Lily to stand up to their aunt so strongly, but she refuses to be cowed on this occasion. Agatha always makes her feel fat (naturally, Lily isn’t fat, but lusciously curved) and stupid, and she wants to escape from her aunt’s censure for a few hours; and besides, she has agreed to attend another event because she has promised to meet an old schoolmate there. Sadly for Lily however, her promise almost proves her undoing. At the function, she is introduced to the handsome and charming Victor Nixon – who proceeds to slip Lily a mickey, construct a weak excuse to get her outside and then bundle her into a carriage that immediately takes off at speed. Drugged, bound and confused, Lily doesn’t know what’s happening until she hears her captor and his companion bandying around words like ‘bride’ and ‘heiress’ – and realises they must be heading to Gretna Green.
Lily may be quiet and shy, but she discovers her backbone during the uncomfortable journey, and at last manages to escape, running headlong into the path of the coach containing Mr. Edward Galbraith, a notorious rake and friend of Cal’s, who immediately comes to her rescue. Nixon and his henchman are summarily dispatched and, having ascertained Lily’s identity, Edward determines to take her home.
The difficulty is going to be in keeping Lily’s identity and standing as an unmarried lady a secret while they are on the way back to London. Edward has no wish to be forced into marriage because society perceives Lily has been compromised – so they have to be incredibly careful to stop in out-of-the-way places where it’s unlikely anyone of their acquaintance will see them. Things go in their favour – until the very last leg of the journey when one of Aunt Agatha’s rivals sees Lily and starts spreading rumours of her ruin the moment she gets back to London.
When Edwards hears them, he’s furious. He doesn’t want to be married, but he can’t stand by and let an innocent young woman be falsely accused and publicly ruined. He likes Lily, admires her intelligence and pluck and is most definitely attracted to her lush body, but he knows she wants to marry for love and that’s the one thing he cannot give her. If, however, he offers for Lily but makes it clear from the start that love isn’t an option… then perhaps marriage isn’t completely out of the question.
Marry is Scandal doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s an easy, undemanding read featuring two attractive principals who have lots of lovely romantic chemistry, and I enjoyed it. Lily is the more well-drawn of the two protagonists and undergoes the most character growth; she has spent all her life hurting and lacking confidence because of her father’s rejection and belief that she must be stupid because she was unable to learn to read or write, and I was rooting for her as she learnt to stand up for herself and to fight for the man she loves. Edward is rather stereotypical; another of those marriage-shy bachelors with such deep hurt in his past that he believes himself unworthy of love or happiness, but for all that, he’s an attractive hero, and Ms. Gracie clearly shows the reader that he’s falling hard for Lily in spite of his determination to remain detached. She injects a little bit of mystery into the story courtesy of his flat refusal to return home, even though he loves the place and the grandfather who practically raised him – but his about-face and coming to terms with the past come rather too late in the story to feel anything other than rushed and glossed over.
There’s an engaging and well-characterised secondary cast in the story, and it’s refreshing to discover Edward’s grandfather is a decent, kind man who loves his grandson dearly rather than one of those ruthless, harsh and dictatorial father-figures so often found in the genre. The writing is smooth and laced with warmth and gentle humour, and in short, Marry in Scandal is sure to appeal to fans of the marriage-of-convenience trope and to anyone looking for a charming and sweetly sensual historical romance without too much overblown drama.