There is a very funny song in the stage show Gypsy called You Gotta Have A Gimmick. It played in my head all the time I was reading this book. Merely Married is a story with a gimmick. The gimmick is a very old one and it is almost always fun, especially in historicals and Regency Romances where it can be credible: take two people who are complete strangers, marry them to each other and see what happens. The plot is always the same and always different. Take a hundred heroes and a hundred heroines match them up and you have a hundred different love stories.
But hold on please, there are a few conditions.
First: what brings the hero and the heroine together should be believable in the context of the world the writer creates. Second, the hero and heroine have to be likable or at least redeemable. Who wants to read a love story about two opportunists? When I find such a person I will hand her a copy of Merely Married.
Our story opens with Adrian Devereau, sixth duke of Raven, in a drunken conversation with friends. Adrian is waxing prolific about how he is the constant marriage target of the ladies of the ton and their daughters. One of the friends points out that widowers are left alone by fortune hunters for at least a year as they are in mourning.
Adrian and his friends learn that a woman at a nearby inn is dying and may need a minister to see her in her last moments. The next scenes in the book are so offensive that I never got past them. Sneaking past the sleeping maid Adrian carries the unconscious woman to a nearby church where she “marries” him though in truth she is too delirious to know where she is. Here is some “humor” from the scene. Looking down at the “dying woman in the church Adrian asks if the ceremony is over. Hearing that it is he says “Thank God, Lets go. I want to get her back into bed before she freezes to ______” He caught himself and the three men exchanged uneasy glances. “Before she gets any colder.”
Of course the heroine, Leah does not die. Instead she shows up at Adrian’s house in London where he is busy leading his meaningless spoiled life. Coughlin has Leah behave in a manner almost as ruthless as Adrian. Seems she has a sister in need of a season and she will keep the circumstances of their marriage secret in order to be able to “launch” her sister from the Duke’s house. Once the season is over, she tells Adrian, she will agree to an annulment on the grounds that the marriage was never consummated. Leah, it seems, is an ethical blackmailer sacrificing herself for her sister’s happiness.
If you say so.
Okay you say, that’s not so bad. So they can’t have sex and they are falling in love and the tension is killing them. What’s so bad about that?
It gets worse.
Adrian doesn’t want anyone to know he is not having sex with his wife. An annulment based on the grounds of lack on consummation would hurt his fragile male ego – i.e. everybody would know! So Adrian sets out to seduce Leah not because he is in love with her, not because he is drawn by undeniable lust, but because. he wants all his friends to know he had sex with his beautiful wife. He succeeds, and of course, is entranced by her in spite of himself. I will admit that the sex in this book is both hot and well written. I had to wonder, though, if in a later era, Adrian would be one of those guys writing his girl’s name on the restroom wall.
Of course all of this depressing behavior and much, much more, is explained by the standard terrible secret in Adrian’s past. But the book is written in a light frothy manner so the “terrible secret” just doesn’t wash. Instead it reads like just one more gimmick. One too many, I am sorry to say
There are far too many upsetting things about Merely Married for me to recommend it. What kind of a big virile hero gets married to avoid a bunch of scheming old ladies? What kind of a lawyer draws up marriage papers for an unconscious woman? (Without a license of any kind!) What kind of a minister, regretting his part in the sham marriage, insists that it was valid as a point of conscience? Wouldn’t a minister insist that it was not a valid marriage as a point of conscience?
Pat Coughlin ‘s writing makes pages turn; I particularly enjoyed Lord Savage and looked forward to Merely Married, only to be gravely disappointed. I do hope her future heroes and heroines are more admirable than these and that she focuses less on the gimmick and more on the qualities that make us want to spend time with her characters.