The Bachelor's Bargain
Are you sick of Regencies where characters treat servants like their best buddies or where class distinctions are ignored? The Bachelor’s Bargain might be just the tonic you need. Be aware, however, that the heroine’s faith is a strong element in this book. This is, after all, a marriage of convenience story where the heroine remains chaste because of her beliefs. It’s also longer than most historical romances today, with a story ranging from Devon to the battlefields of Europe and back.
Lacemaker and housemaid Anne Webster is at the end of her rope. Her father, a clergyman, has been jailed for supporting the Luddite cause. Now a housemaid for the Duke of Marston, Anne secretly made a piece of lace incorporating their family crest. If she can sell it to the duke’s son, she can pay for her father’s defense. All her plans are thrown into chaos when the duke’s older son, Ruel Chouteau, the Marquess of Blackthorne, reappears. Ruel is attracted to her spirit from the start. When he sees he piece of lace, he sees a solution to the plans he has to increase his family’s fortune. When both are wounded in an attempt on Ruel’s life, Ruel shows that he is more than just another rogue when he makes sure Anne gets proper medical attention. Oh, and he also weds her in a marriage of convenience.
Thanks to Ruel’s friend, Walker, a Native American blacksmith, Anne survives her wounds – throwing everything into turmoil. Just about everyone disapproves of the marriage. Ruel’s family is horrified that he has married a commoner, and Anne’s friend, Prudence, is frightened of what will happen to Anne. The faithful Anne finds herself in a new world, but that world is far from a fairy tale. She is attracted to Ruel but must fight off her feelings. Meanwhile, Prudence herself begins a budding romance with the blacksmith Walker. A lot happens before the main characters find their happiness, and I thought the middle dragged a bit, although the action certainly sped up near the end as Ruel put his daring scheme into motion.
Anne is devoted to God and devoted to her father. She is attracted to Ruel, but to her, he is two people – the kind Ruel and the arrogant Marquess. She is intelligent and outspoken, and aware of the dangers of being too outspoken with the wrong people. It’s her wit that attracts her to Ruel. He’s less certain about her devotion to God, as he is not a believer. While he is an iconoclast and rogue, Ruel is every bit the arrogant nobleman. He’s not above doing what it takes to get his way. For example, when one of Anne’s pieces of lace falls into his hands, he uses it to get her to do what he wants. Like many romance novel rogues, he has been neglected by his mother and sees women as being interested only in fripperies, so it’s no wonder the industrious Anne catches his attention. Both characters suffer from doubts, and near the end, there are a few misunderstandings and assumptions that dragged the action on a little too long.
Anne and Ruel act like real people from Regency England. So do the other people around them. This isn’t one of those stories where everyone cheers when a marquess marries a commoner. Instead, Anne is threatened and derided throughout. Ruel’s father, the duke, is charmed by her, but that doesn’t mean he wants her in his family. He even admits to her face that he wouldn’t care if authorities executed her father, for he hates the Luddites. Thrust into such a world, is it any wonder Anne often asks if she has done the right thing? Even her friend, Prudence, is horrified by the marriage. Prudence warns Anne not to become intimate with the marquess lest she be “utterly ruined.” In fact, Prudence is sure Anne will be cast out in the street – cast out like a mistress. This part didn’t make much sense to me. While I realize the Regency had different rules than we do, surely it was allowable to have sex with your husband? Surely a bride bearing a legal heir would be protected from such a fate. I wondered if Prudence’s fears were inserted because this was an inspirational novel.
Indeed, the religious aspect of this story is strong – more so than in many of the inspirational novels I have read lately. The faith element is a believable part of the background. Throughout the story, Anne finds guidance in her faith. Sometimes, it seemed to go a little far for my tastes. For example, it’s hard to imagine a more devoted servant of God than Anne, but she begins to think she is a poor servant of God because of the steps she took to save her father and her family. “Of course I prayed to God, as I always do. But did I ask His will? Did I submit myself to His leading? Maybe this is why I prefer inspirational writers with “cross-over” appeal such as Ted Dekker. While I love reading about faith, in some cases, I feel as if the message is piled on. The message is the strongest in the discussion questions at the end, which includes several Bible passages about obedience.
Overall, however, I don’t regret reading this book. I loved sinking into a historical romance that was drenched with detail. I learned about everything from lace to Luddites to lacemaking machines. Even more importantly, Palmer made me believe in her story by populating it with realistic characters who acted like people from the upper and lower classes of Regency England. However, I’m also curious about reading Catherine Palmer’s out of print “secular” romances to find out how they compare.