Desert Isle Keeper
Someone to Wed
Someone to Wed is the third book in Mary Balogh’s series following the fortunes of the Westcott family as its members struggle to put their lives back together after the revelation of a long-buried family secret impacts all of them in many different ways. The author once again proves herself to be incredibly skilled at examining the detail and minutiae of relationships – both romantic and familial – and in her ability to make her characters’ dilemmas and insecurities feel understandable and realistic. These aren’t ‘flashy’ books; the focus is very much on the characters and how they adjust to the fact that the lives they had imagined for themselves are suddenly taken away – and how they come to understand that perhaps the very thing they have regarded as a disaster might just have changed their lives for the better.
When, after his death, it was discovered that Humphrey Westcott, the Earl of Riverdale had married his countess while he was already married to someone else, the consequences were far reaching. His ‘wife’ retired from society to reside with her brother and took to using her maiden name again, and their three children – two daughters and a son – were declared illegitimate, meaning that the supposed heir, Harry, a happy-go-lucky young man in his early twenties, could no longer inherit the earldom. That honour now falls to Alexander Westcott, the late earl’s nephew, although it’s an honour Alexander could have done without.
When we first met Alex in Someone to Love, he had spent the better part of the last five years working on making good his family finances and setting his Kent estate, Riddings Park, to rights. A young man who takes his responsibilities very seriously, Alex was at long last looking forward to settling into the life of a country gentleman and had expressed his intention of looking about him for a wife, hoping to find a woman with whom he could happily share his life. But his dreams of love and a quiet life of obscurity were shattered when he became the Earl of Riverdale. He has inherited the entailed properties that come with the title without being left even the smallest amount of the money necessary to run them, meaning that Alex is now faced with the prospect of marrying for money rather than for love as he’d hoped.
When he receives an invitation to tea from his reclusive neighbour, Miss Wren Heyden, Alex is surprised on arrival to discover that he is the only guest, and even more surprised when Miss Heyden suggests that they are both in a position to offer the other something they want. She is a shrewd, intelligent and very wealthy businesswoman who successfully runs the glassworks she inherited from her uncle, but owing to the birthmark that covers half her face, she considers herself disfigured and has lived the life of a hermit. But she doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life alone; she wants marriage and a family (and she’s not too coy about her desire to experience sexual passion) and decides to – in effect – buy herself a husband. Alex is stunned (and not a little put out) by the offer, but he can’t deny that marrying Miss Heyden would solve his financial problems and enable him to put right everything that needs putting right at Brambledean Court. Yet even so, he knows she isn’t his only option. In spite of his lack of fortune, he’s very eligible – he’s young, titled and attractive – and there are enough wealthy cits looking to land a title for their daughters that he wouldn’t have any trouble finding a bride among them. And while Wren’s birthmark doesn’t really worry him, he senses she’s broken somehow, that her “defensive, slightly mocking manner” and her “surface coldness” and self-imposed isolation are the result of emotional issues that go far beyond her face – and he isn’t sure he wants to deal with them.
After a few meetings, Wren and Alex agree that they will not suit and part ways. Alex returns to London and his family, and gets down to the serious business of bride-hunting while Wren goes to Staffordshire to visit her glassworks. Yet as Wren immerses herself in work and Alex sets about courting a suitable young lady, both find their thoughts straying to the other, and when, to Alex’s astonishment, Wren appears unexpectedly in London, he realises he’s happy to see her and had missed her. It’s a new beginning for them both. Alex has come to terms with the fact that Wren is clearly hiding the truth about her childhood, but feels fairly sure that, given time, she will confide in him, while Wren comes to understand that, should she actually become the Countess of Riverdale, her life as a recluse must end. She realises the foolishness of her hopes to marry and continue to live in obscurity and, with the help and support of Alex and his family, all of whom treat her with warmth and respect, begins to come out of her shell and to live her life – which is by no means easy for her. All her life she has hidden her face and her secrets, and it takes a huge amount of courage and determination to set aside years of conditioning and to deal with her fears of being seen in public as well as to believe that people can see past the mark on her face. Throughout it all, Alex encourages and supports her with a growing sense of pride, even pulling her back occasionally when he senses she’s pushing herself too hard.
Both central characters are extremely likeable and easy to relate to. There’s a danger that Alex – intuitive, responsible, gorgeous and charming – could come across as too good to be true, but there’s an honesty and depth to him that counteracts that, making him seem more human. For instance, while his admission that he is put off by Wren’s emotional baggage might make him seem somewhat selfish, I applauded him for both his insight and his truthfulness. And he gets extra Brownie Points for the way he owns up to being offended that a woman would propose a match based on monetary consideration, while it would have been perfectly acceptable had the boot been on the other foot and actually takes the time to think things through. Wren is perhaps more difficult to warm to, but that’s intentional; she is self-assured and independent when it comes to business, but her insecurities and lack of social interaction make her seem aloof and prickly, although as soon as the reader begins to understand the reasons for her awkwardness, it’s easy to sympathise with her and to cheer her on as she decides to take back her life with both hands.
As I said at the beginning, this is not a ‘flashy’ book, meaning there are no convoluted plot-twists or melodramatic developments. Someone to Wed is a leisurely-paced, beautifully developed, character driven romance of the sort at which Mary Balogh excels, and I have no qualms about giving it a wholehearted recommendation.