The Deed was Lynsay Sands’ first published romance, and marked the start of a prolific career, albeit one that for me has been characterized by uneven writing. What’s best about her books – the humor and a certain naive sweetness in her heroes and heroines – reminds me in some ways of vintage Julie Garwood. This isn’t my favorite Sands, but fun Medievals are rare these days, so it’s nice to know that this one remains in print.
Beautiful, naive Emmaline Eberhart is dutiful in her religion and allegiance; she arranges an audience with the king to ask that he order her husband to do “the deed” so she may procreate on behalf of god and country. In an hilarious and excruciatingly embarrassing scene, she makes her request, and as a result of questions by the king and bishop, it’s clear her husband not only isn’t doing the deed…he’s never done it. The king agrees to her request, but before she knows it, Emma’s a widow and being pursued by Lord Bertrand, her dead husband’s cousin, who is also a mama’s boy with evil designs on Emma, an over-inflated view of himself, and loyalties to his mother that extend beyond those to his king. The king sends newly knighted Amaury de Aneford to marry Emma, do the deed, and protect her and her property against Bertrand.
As Amaury knows that the widow’s first marriage was never consummated, he worries that she’s either ugly or a harpy. Though he’s happy she’s neither, the rushed wedding leads to a harrowing but very funny wedding night. Like everyone else, Bertrand now knows that Emma’s first marriage was never consummated, so he has a claim on the castle, and if he can journey there before Emma and Amaury do the deed, he and his mother may achieve their goals. Which means that while Amaury tries to consummate the marriage, he’s being given updates on Bertrand’s progress.
The newly knighted Amaury is more than a little rough around the edges and doesn’t quite know what to do with a wife, particularly one who doesn’t fit his notions of what a wife should be. Aren’t ladies supposed to find lovemaking distasteful? Well, his doesn’t, but when he requests that she simply lay there, he realizes he likes that even less. And what to make of a wife who hears and resolves tenants’ disputes…isn’t that a man’s job? Without the assistance of his right-hand man Blake, who advises him to be happy for his wife’s oddities and suggests he compliment and woo her, he’d constantly be making matters worse. As it is, he only does so nearly constantly.
Emma, who believes herself to be undesirable, started dosing her husband’s tankard with aphrodisial herbs from the start, but being the suspicious sort, Amaury’s been pouring out his tankard’s contents. When his dogs die after drinking said contents one night, he accuses Emma of trying to kill him. She, of course, is understandably hurt, but to convince him that if she really wanted him dead, he’d be dead, she – William Tell style – shoots his hat off his head with a bow and arrow. This marks the turning point in their marriage; Amaury begins to really trust Emma and she realizes her husband truly desires her.
Though their marriage begins to work from this point, the fact remains that somebody wants Amaury dead. It’s likely that Bertrand is responsible, but it’s not enough to thwart attempts on Amaury’s life; they must catch the conniving lord and provide proof of his perfidy to the king, all the while keeping Amaury safe and Emma out of Bertrand’s clutches. Because this is a romp, it all remains pretty light, even during the most dangerous sections of the book. The scene in which Emma escapes Bertrand’s clutches by pretending to have her period is quick thinking on her part, and it’s also very, very funny.
Sands’ characterizations of her leads are slight. Emma is beautiful, smart, and doesn’t realize how beloved she is to her people. That’s fairly stock, but her naivete and how she views her special abilities almost as an embarrassment endear her to the reader. I liked Amaury as well, but mostly because I enjoyed his conversations with Blake and his growing love for Emma. On his own there’s not much there.
The Deed is a fun read; the humor is both bawdy and sweet, and Emma and Amaury, while lightly drawn, engage the reader nonetheless. Sands went on to write The Key a couple of years later, which I think is an even better Medieval, but my favorite to date is 2006’s Love Is Blind.