Desert Isle Keeper
The Earl's Inconvenient Wife
Julia Justiss’ series about the Lattimars, who must swim against the social tide to win their happily ever afters, continues with The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife, in which two best friends find themselves married in name only – at least at first…
Temperance – Temper – Lattimar has a scandalous mother with a long train of lovers behind her, and a father who is touch-averse and obsessed with cataloging and buying his many antiques – so much so that he apparently only touched their mother once, in order to conceive his heir and her older brother, Gregory. Yes, Temperance lives with the knowledge that she, her twin sister Prudence, and her younger brother Christopher are not even her father’s natural children, and worse yet that the whole of society knows it, too. With all of this gossip stacked against her, and horrifying memories of a sexual assault haunting her, she has no desire for nor need of a husband and is thus not at all keen on the idea of going to London for the Season, but it’s not something that can be avoided. Knowing how much the gossip surrounding their family will hurt her sister, Temper sends Prudence off to Bath to hunt for husband of her own (A Most Unsuitable Match), intending on facing down the mountain of London gossip alone – when her dear friend Giff offers the sheltering and sponsoring arm of his godmother, the sharp-tongued Lady Sayleford.
Lady Sayleford, knowing how difficult the climb will be, appoints Giff – Gifford Myles Newell MP, youngest son of the Earl of Fensworth – to stand guard over Temperance while also appointing her niece Angela as a companion, to ensure Temper’s reputation remains spotless during her unwanted Season. As Temperance’s brother Gregory’s best friend, Giff is often the man’s carousing partner, though his mother frequently pressures him to find a bride. He has known Temper since she was six – and his brotherly feelings for her have steadily transformed themselves into lust, affection and admiration of her fiery spirit, adventuresome hopes and expansive mind. Temper, too, suppresses romantic yearnings for Giff that go beyond simple physical lust. The two of them agree to Lady Sayleford’s strong suggestion they present a united front and plunge headfirst into teas, dinners and other social functions. Soon Temper bumps up against two odious enemies – Wendemere, a drunken second son who wants her no matter the cost or her level of consent, and the snooty Miss Avery who judges and gossips about her – and worse yet, Giff’s mother increases her pressure on him to marry. In order to preserve Giff’s lifestyle and political aspirations and fund Temper’s desire for travel, she suggests they marry in name only; a prospect that Giff finds nearly intolerable until they’re caught behind locked doors at a party thanks to Miss Avery’s manipulations and thus are forced into it. Can they overcome their misgivings to make a true match?
The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife floats on a sparkly, smart cloud of hearts and flowers, featuring good characters whose love gets them through some difficult times. The love story here is easy to feel deep, rock-solid emotions about.
Giff and Temper’s relationship has excellent romantic tension, and a sensible reason for there to BE tension between them. They clearly respect and admire each other, they share snappy and well-balanced repartée, and they also clearly feel like their love is forbidden – because they don’t want to damage their friendship, because they don’t want to give up their single states, because of their personal scars. But they are also friends of the greatest sympathy, the sort of folks who go together like peas and carrots. It makes the giving in extra sweet, as does the bonding aftermath. As a unit and singularly, they’re both memorable.
Temper is a perfect heroine – the right kind of acid-tongued spitfire, with a hard shell she’s more than earned, the kind who’s most assuredly NOT foolhardy and helpless without the hero. But she’s also vulnerable – aware of her mother’s sole true love and the sad affairs embarked upon afterwards, wishing that her father would be less remote, loving her siblings deeply and wanting, more than anything, to become an explorer and see the rest of the world. When you have nowhere to go socially but laterally and really don’t want to advance yourself, there’s no reason to hold back. And she doesn’t.
Giff is the right kind of hero – politically astute and enjoying the level playing field he has with Temper, he’s got his weak points (youngest son syndrome, natch) but is hopelessly besotted from the first – which makes watching him squirm as Temper is paid court by other fellows a delight. He is protective but willing to let her reach for the stars; he has his own dreams but would never wish to crush her spirit or turn her into nothing but a biddable bed-mate.
The novel has other delightful characters; Temper’s loving mother, whom I hope somehow scores her own happy ending by the end of the series; Miss Henley, a spinster who becomes Temper’s closest friend; the wonderfully forthright Lady Sayleford. The book’s only weakness is a few of its rote plot points (the marriage of convenience being sparked off by the two of them being caught coming out of a locked bedroom together, a cliché so old it creaks) and that its villains are rather thinly drawn. Miss Avery is one-note and shallow, and Wendemere the usual debauched roué. Miss Avery never really receives a decent retribution for her rottenness either, and the final culmination of Giff and Temper’s passion is a bit too brief, through quite tender and emotionally satisfying.
But the strongly-written heroine and excellent hero – and their very genuine feelings for one another – buoy The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife to a high recommendation.