Marry the Man Today
A bachelor auction, contraceptive devices for sale, protection and relocation of abused women, sex education classes – sounds like the latter half of the 20th century? No, actually this is 1853, London. Add to this list – equal rights for women, the vote, London’s first ladies club, and a kidnapping investigation – and you have the basics of Marry the Man Today.
Elizabeth Dunaway is one liberated woman who, at the age of 22, owns and operates a successful ladies club, the Abigail Adams, which sports a healthy membership including some of the most powerful women in society. Elizabeth has vowed to never marry – she can’t imagine giving that kind of control to anyone, especially a man. In a single year, Elizabeth has developed an unbelievably impressive network of supporters and united they cry out against the injustices toward women every day.
While attending a meeting at the Admiralty, Ross Carrington, the Earl of Blakestone, notices a group of women marching on Westminster in apparent protest, as their signs proclaim women’s rights of liberty, equality, and sorority. Ross is instantly attracted to the group’s leader as she shouts for the women of Britain to unite. Soon the police arrive on the scene and remove the protestors to Scotland Yard. Entranced, Ross follows the group, only to find their unrepentant leader, Elizabeth Dunaway, in a cell demanding to speak to a reporter. Strangely compelled to help, Ross arranges for her release only to discover she is determined to remain in jail. She wants the world to notice her arrest and certainly doesn’t need his assistance. Wary yet determined, Ross only wants to protect her – mostly from herself. Once he discovers she is the infamous owner of the Abigail Adams, he is even more drawn to her. After all, Ross is a very modern thinking man.
Identifying and protecting abused women while offering them new identities is only one of young Elizabeth’s many activities. Believing in financial freedom, she dresses women in disguise and helps them open their own bank accounts (fraudulently, that is). The contraceptives she sells are actually contraband French letters. Elizabeth believes most married women want to be adventuresome in bed and therefore offers such training. Her idea for a bachelor auction will benefit both married or single ladies – it is, after all, only one evening in the company of the “won” bachelor. And London society really needs to loosen up, so Elizabeth and friends drop their skirts one night at a charity ball to reveal daring harem silk trousers and then successfully sell dances with a “harem” member – all for charity, of course. Such causes make up a normal week in Elizabeth’s life. I’m all for dauntless heroines stretching society’s strictures but come on…this was entirely too much.
All the while, Ross attempts to be a real hero in Elizabeth’s life. Investigating a series of kidnappings which may be connected to the Abigail Adams, Ross offers Elizabeth advice only to have her ignore it. Repeatedly, Ross postures himself as the mature, experienced protector – all to no avail. Elizabeth might be physically attracted to Ross but she will not allow him to interfere in her life. While this feistiness had a few sparkling moments it was overshadowed by increasing improbabilities as new situations developed and a determined Elizabeth remained tightly in control. Although Needham gives Ross a strong hero introduction, he is reduced to an irritant hanging around the fringes of Elizabeth’s life for most of the book.
Over time Elizabeth’s careless pursuits take their toll, and Ross – both to save and possess her – forces her to choose either marriage or prison as he drags her to the altar. It is this aspect of the story I most disliked. I can live with some heavy-handesness on the part of the hero, and his reasoning for forcing the point was sound, but I didn’t want to see Ross tied to Elizabeth by this time, so his level of desperation was troublesome. It’s not that I disliked her that much, I just couldn’t envision a HEA for them, even after her eventual change of heart.
This is the third book in the Gentleman Rogue series following The Pleasure of Her Kiss and A Scandal to Remember. Characters from those books make obligatory appearances that detract rather than add to the overall story. This could have been a stand alone book had just a few phrases here and a few insignificant pages there involving these characters been left out.
Marry the Man Today attempts to provide the reader with fresh situations but only delivers a number of improbable scenarios. Elizabeth’s fanatical activism didn’t inspire respect – rather it implied immaturity and jerked the story from its historical setting. In addition, I felt Ross was continually emasculated as he attempted to be a hero but never was quite allowed to complete that role. Despite Elizabeth’s change of heart after the wedding, her continued exploitations undermined rather than inspired a believable HEA. But mostly, the story’s implausible nature combined with the one-sided disposition of the lead couple made an uninspiring and rather tedious read.