The Accidental Abduction
This is Darcie Wilde’s second book, and having seen some favourable reviews for her début, Lord of the Rakes, I was keen to give her a try. I found her writing style to be engaging and was especially pleased to discover that she has put a different spin on the well-used trope of two people who barely know each other getting married. There are plenty of marriage-of-convenience and compromised-into-marriage stories which feature a couple with little prior knowledge of each other tying the knot and then falling in love, but in The Accidental Abduction, the two central characters – Harry Rayburn and Leannah Wakefield – meet in less than auspicious circumstances, feel an incredibly strong attraction towards each other and marry on impulse, believing they can sort everything else out later.
Also unusual for an historical is the fact that neither protagonist is titled. Harry is very wealthy, but his money comes from trade, and while Leannah was brought up a “lady”, her family is poor as church mice.
The story opens with Harry proposing – unsuccessfully – to one of the belles of the ton, a beautiful but empty-headed young woman. On his way home from drowning his sorrows, Harry attempts to save a woman who is struggling with a pair of runaway horses, and ends up jumping into her carriage in order to help her. But it seems that she’s not struggling at all – she’s pushing her horses hell-for-leather in order to catch up with her eloping younger sister, and doesn’t stop despite having taken on an unwanted passenger.
When one of the horses throws a shoe, the woman has no alternative but to stop and admit defeat. But Harry isn’t so easily deterred. The weather is bad and if he and his “abductress” are stuck in it, so are her sister and her beau; he suggests they head for the nearest inn as they need shelter, and it’s quite possible that her quarry will have had to hole up there as well.
Leannah Wakefield is so used to having to do everything for herself and her family on her own that she is initially dismissive of Harry’s offers of help. However, she can’t continue her pursuit with a horse that needs shoeing, and reluctantly accepts that Harry is right, and they need to shelter from the storm and find somewhere to have the horse re-shod.
Leannah is a widow and has, since the death of her much older husband, been the glue holding her family together. Her father is ill, her young brother is just twelve and her younger sister, Genny, is both beautiful and headstrong, and it’s all Leannah can do to keep their heads above water. Quite naturally, this sort of existence has worn her down over the two years since her husband’s death, and meeting someone like Harry, strong, reliable and full of confidence – justifiably so, it seems – brings home to her just how much she’s missed having someone to care for her for a change. Harry’s presence also awakens her baser instincts – he’s young, well-built and good-looking, and…well, some aspects of widowhood have been more difficult for her than others.
Leannah and Harry immediately fall into the grip of an intense physical attraction the like of which neither has ever experienced before. I’m not a big fan of “insta-lust” in romance novels, but it’s so well-written that their fascination with each other just leaps off the page. There’s also something lying beneath their physical attraction – a respect and connection which neither can really explain. When Genny is discovered and her beau dispatched, Harry realises he doesn’t like the idea of never seeing Leannah again – so he proposes, arguing that getting married will solve not just one, but two problems. It will divert attention from Genny’s elopement, and will mean he and Leannah can get on with lots of officially sanctioned shagging. Which they most certainly do. A lot.
For a day or so after their hasty wedding, they cocoon themselves in the honeymoon suite at a swish London hotel, both knowing that they won’t be able to remain that way for very long, and not looking forward to the confrontations with family and friends which must inevitably follow.
The way in which Harry and Leannah’s doubts begin to creep in once they have to return to the “real world” is well written and feels very realistic, as do their respective families’ reactions to the news of their precipitate marriage. Harry’s family is concerned that he married Leannah on the rebound and that he has been duped simply so she can get her hands on his money. Her father is known to have been a highly unsuccessful speculator who charmed his way into getting people to trust him with large sums of money which he then invested most unwisely, and Harry’s father suspects that Leannah was somehow put into his way as a “honey trap”. Harry’s conviction of Hannah’s innocence isn’t shaken, even when his two best friends add the weight of their opinions – but he also can’t ignore the fact that there is obviously something that Leannah isn’t telling him.
Harry and Leannah are attractive characters who make a well-matched couple. The Accidental Abduction starts strongly and while there are perhaps a couple of plot-threads too many and a couple of unnecessary villains, I thought I was going to be awarding it a B grade – until I realised that I was about forty pages from the end, and that the big crisis hadn’t yet happened. Ms. Wilde builds the tension very skilfully, and keeps building it brick by brick and little, insidious thought by little insidious thought – but when the shit finally hits the fan, it happens so fast you could blink and miss it. It’s true that there has been an undercurrent of unhappiness running beneath the surface prior to the event which finally causes all hell to break loose, but Harry’s accusations and Leannah’s reactions are so ridiculously over the top as to be completely out of character. Even worse, the couple’s reconciliation happens “off screen” and we are simply told that they talked about this and they talked about that and worked everything out! I could quite happily have dispensed with the opening chapter in favour of having another chapter at the end showing Harry and Leannah’s reconciliation and their (now) happy marriage. I don’t really see what that first chapter adds to the story, unless it’s to give Harry a reason to go out drinking – but when do young men in historicals ever need an excuse to go out on the razz?
Honestly, I could have cried with frustration, because the ending puts a real downer on what could have been a truly excellent read. I’m still giving it a C+ – mostly because the first part of the book is very good, and because Ms Wilde has managed to inject a note of originality into a genre which isn’t known for it. But I’m bummed about the ending.