Six Weeks With a Lord
Eve Pendle’s début historical romance, Six Weeks With a Lord, features an engaging hero, a prickly heroine and a marriage of convenience designed to help him to save his failing estate and to help her gain custody of her four-year-old brother. The twist in the tale is that the hero is determined to keep his convenient wife, while she is anxious to go it alone at the end of an agreed period (the titular six weeks). The story is fairly-well conceived, although the set-up is clumsy and the villain only wants a moustache to twirl and an evil laugh to complete the cartoonish picture; and while all’s well that ends well, the resolution to the conflict at the heart of the plot comes too quickly and too easily.
Grace Alnott’s father, a wealthy tradesman, has recently died, leaving her the sum of fifty-thousand pounds in the form of a dowry she cannot access unless she marries a peer. She was aware of his ambitions for her but had resisted them, owing to her distrust and dislike of titled gentlemen, who are arrogant and care for nothing but their own pleasure. As if having the money left to her tied up in such a way wasn’t bad enough, her father has left her young brother to the guardianship of Lord Rayner, the man who raped her former maid and companion and got her pregnant – actions which only cemented her determined dislike and distrust of the aristocracy.
There’s only one thing to be done, which is to contest the guardianship in the Courts of Chancery (which will be expensive and probably very long and drawn out – see Bleak House!) – for which Grace will need plenty of money; hence her need to contract a fast marriage of convenience to a peer of the realm.
Everett Hetherington resigned his army commission on the death of his older brother and returned to England to take up the title and responsibilities of Earl of Westbury. Burdened with the debts incurred by both his father and brother, he is brought even closer to financial ruin by a plague that is sweeping the herds of cattle farmed on his estate. He’s a conscientious landlord who cares about the well-being of his tenants, and wants to be able to compensate them for their losses – but to do that and pay off the debts, he needs somewhere in the region of fifty thousand pounds, and he needs it quickly.
So he sets out to find himself an heiress who will consent to a fast marriage. At the Morrisons’ ball, the rumours of the fifty-thousand pound dowry that go with Miss Grace Alnott’s hand in marriage reach his ears, and he decides on the spot that she’s the one. It’s a happy accident that he likes what he sees, and he quickly sets about making himself known to her (he cuts in on her dance with another gentleman, which struck me as ill-mannered and rather anachronistic – did this happen prior to the twentieth century?) and by the end of the dance, she’s invited him to call the next day.
Everett is a little surprised to discover that Grace is offering only half her dowry to the man she marries, but she’s still his best ticket to getting his hands on a large sum of money quickly, and he’s sure he will be able to charm the rest out of her given enough time. She insists on a marriage in name only; he reckons he can seduce her into staying with him and giving up the whole fifty-thousand pounds. He wants her to live with him for six months; she will allow only six weeks. Everett has no alternative but to agree, and to amend his timeline for seduction.
The exposition is rushed and the first two chapters are rather inelegant; the writing is choppy and the initial meeting between the principals requires rather a large suspension of disbelief. Fortunately however, the author seems to hit her stride after this, and the writing smooths out once Grace and Everett are married.
The bulk of the story is devoted to the six weeks the couple has agreed to spend together, and I appreciated the time spent on developing their relationship. But I found it hard to like Grace for around half the book because she’s so prickly and prone to jump to conclusions without knowing all the facts. She is determined to have as little to do with Everett as possible, and allows her prejudices to inform her view of him; but while the reader is aware Everett has an ulterior motive, Grace is not, and yet she is standoffish and impolite at almost every opportunity, while he displays genuine concern for her happiness and comfort.
Deception in a romance isn’t a deal breaker for me provided the reasons for it are clear, sound and believable, and Everett’s desire to save his lands AND the livelihoods of his tenants is all those things as is Grace’s desire to gain custody of her brother. However, I couldn’t understand Grace’s reasons for not telling Everett why she wants to retain half of her dowry (which she couldn’t have done anyway, because in the eyes of the law it belonged to the husband) and her reasoning seems solely based on her distrust of aristocrats, which is, in turn, based on the behaviour of ONE man. When Rayner finally appears, he’s clearly a nasty piece of work, but even so, tarring all his ilk with the same brush isn’t really a mark of maturity on Grace’s part.
Six Weeks With a Lord is a decently entertaining read, but I can’t say it has anything new to offer. The choppiness of the opening chapters is off-putting, the pacing drags in the middle, and the resolution employs the next best thing to a deus ex machina (is there such a thing as regina ex machina?!). Eve Pendle shows promise as a writer, and I’d certainly consider reading something else of hers in future, but unfortunately, I can’t quite recommend this book.
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