Desert Isle Keeper
Marrying the Royal Marine
What is special about historical romance is that in the hands of the right author it can transport you to love in another time, another place. Carla Kelly is exactly that type of writer, able to bring the Regency Era to life and people it with honorable, amazing characters that make you fall in love with them. I rarely pay more than cover price for a book (my motto is if I can’t buy it with a coupon/discount, I can’t buy it) but for her backlist I have gladly paid double and triple cover price for the books and found them well worth it. How sweet it is to get this one to review!
Polly Brandon has had no choice but to let her illegitimacy define her. That and the fact that she wears spectacles have convinced her that she is no prize on the marriage mart. But Polly, ever practical, is delighted with what she does have going for her. After years of thinking herself an orphan, she has family: Two sisters to be precise. Having just visited Nana in Plymouth she is now on her way to visit Laura in Oporto, Portugal. Laura’s husband, Philemon Brittle, is a surgeon serving in a satellite hospital there. The sea voyage proves her undoing though, and it is only through the timely interference of an unlikely angel that she survives the experience.
Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Philippe d’Anvers Junot has never seen a less likely seamen. Ms. Brandon has had absolutely wretched luck in having her first voyage on water be one plagued by a rather brisk gale. When he takes care of her, going far beyond duty and propriety to do so, he is surprised to find himself drawn, rather than repulsed, by this trooper covered in seasickness but able to rally and be all charms and smiles the next day. Before the voyage is over they are fast friends and he has given the young Miss Polly the nickname of “Brandon”.
Hugh’s present assignment has given him plenty of leeway with his time, and he uses that as an excuse to help Brandon get settled in with her sister. Laura and Philemon both see which way the wind is blowing, but while Philemon might be sympathetic to Hugh’s infatuation, Laura most definitely is not. Hugh is thirty-seven to Polly’s nineteen and Laura’s own first marriage to a much older man was not a happy memory. She makes certain to communicate her point to Hugh, albeit with the great civility due from his service to her family. Hugh begins to visit less often, though he does not cut off all contact completely.
Polly, for her part, is oblivious to this subtle exchange and any alterations it makes in Hugh’s behavior. Certain that the combination of her glasses and parentage would keep a propertied man such as the Lieutenant Colonel from ever seeing her as anything more than a passing acquaintance, she had always thought their relationship could never be more than one of casual friendship. She busies herself by befriending the pouca maes – the little mothers – young women housing in the former convent the hospital is housed in – who have been badly abused at the hands of the French soldiers. As she gets to know them – and Sister Marie Madelena – she begins to find purpose in her life in Portugal. But she longs for a touch of adventure. When Hugh accompanies her and the good Sister on a voyage upriver to find more pouca maes she finds more excitement than she could ever have bargained for. But the true miracle is the love of the man beside her through it all.
The tile does of course give away the ending, but the journey is what really makes this book. Hugh and Polly are such terrific characters; it is a joy to watch them fall in love, even in the midst of all the hardship and struggle that the war brings to the area they are in. While I was a bit like Laura in the beginning (daunted by their age difference), their interactions showed me how perfect they were for each other all in the ways that truly mattered. Hugh’s own feelings of decrepitude and Polly’s certainty of her unworthiness fade when faced with the surety of their mutual love.
I always love Carla’s heroines. In this case, practical Polly won me over completely with her competent, cheerful demeanor. She is both serene and brave in times of trouble or danger. I liked that she wasn’t a braggart about her toughness or independence. It’s quite the opposite; she simply sets about to do what needs to be done.
I had some qualms about Hugh initially, mainly based on his age. I am near his number of years (ack!) and work with college students. I can’t imagine marrying a single one of the nineteen year olds in my employ. We don’t have anything in common in terms of what really counts. But Hugh didn’t come across as a lecherous or foolishly infatuated old man. He genuinely cared for Polly and the two had plenty of common ground on which to meet and unite. And he was such a gentlemen and hero, I couldn’t imagine any woman not falling in love with him.
While there weren’t many secondary characters, one of the ones that existed most definitely stood out. Sergeant Cadotte grew on me in the same way he grew on Hugh and Polly. In a tough situation, with no real way out, he proved himself to be more of an officer and gentlemen than any of those (except Hugh) in higher rank. I found myself as interested in his Lalage and Emile and Antoine as I was with any of the other characters in the book. Kelly did a good job with all her supporting cast, making people come alive even if they were even in just one scene, but the Sergeant burrowed a place for himself in my heart.
The minuscule minus is for some of the handling of the adventure plot and for the age difference. I eventually accepted the age disparity but I never quite got over it.
Except for that little caveat, this book is darn near perfect. It was a wonderful, fast read that transported me to a time and place far from my own. My only regret is that I did not get to visit Hugh’s estate in Scotland or the little farm in France that held the family that so captivated me. For anyone who loves a good love story, I heartily recommend Marrying the Royal Marine.