The Engagement is an acceptable historical romance that continues Kate Bridges’ series about Mounties. It’s a decent read, but also falls short in a number of ways.
Dr. Virginia Waters was engaged to Andrew Bullock for six years. His parents even paid for her medical education, all with the expectation that Andrew and Virginia would be married. But on the verge of their marriage, Andrew abruptly ended their engagement by sending her a letter telling her he was marrying someone else. Humiliated and abandoned, Virginia is in an uncomfortable position, until Andrew’s brother Zack offers to marry her.
Inspector Zack Bullock considered it his duty to marry the woman his brother abandoned. After he and the Mounties under his command capture several members of the notorious Stiller gang, Zack begins the journey to Calgary for the wedding. But the train is attacked and derailed en route; Zach is injured and two of his men are killed. When he awakes, Virginia is there, nursing him back to health. He hasn’t seen her for five years, but he feels an immediate attraction for her. Unfortunately, he now believes he must call off the engagement. Shortly before the attack on the train, a man came up behind Zack and warned him they were coming after Virginia.
This is where the story took an annoying turn from which it never entirely recovered. Virginia already feels rejected and humiliated by the way his brother treated her. Rather than warn her of what is happening, Zack decides to dump her in the most public way possible, in front of her family and friends. He even arranged to have a reporter from the local newspaper there to spread the word so that his enemies will know they are no longer engaged. It’s obvious that this will only result in Virginia being made to feel utterly worthless, and sure enough, that’s exactly what happens.
Unfortunately, Zack’s ingenious plan doesn’t work, and gunmen soon try to shoot Virginia. With her in danger, Zack whisks her away to a local Mounties lodge where he can protect her. Justifiably ticked off, Virginia tells him she’s through with men and doesn’t intend to get close to another man for five years. Zack thinks this is hilarious and decides to prove that she won’t be able to resist a man for that long. He starts to seduce her, not because he’s actually interested in a relationship with her, but just because he wants to prove her wrong. Basically, he’s just toying with her, which certainly doesn’t add to his already meager charm.
This storyline might work if the characterization, particularly Zack’s, wasn’t somewhat murky. There’s a certain remoteness to the characters that makes it difficult to get a sense of who they really are, because their personalities never really come across on the page. Zack’s behavior would be more understandable if his motives were clearer. Instead, it feels like he runs hot and cold, and it’s difficult to see what exactly he wants from Virginia. Perhaps he was supposed to be conflicted. I just thought he was a jerk.
That said, the book passes easily enough. The author’s writing is smooth and moves the story along. There are several subplots in this story, including the suspense element, a recently widowed wife of a Mountie coping with her new life, and Virginia’s uncle’s drinking problem. At times some of them get lost in the shuffle. Occasionally one of them would pop up again after not being mentioned for a while and I would realize that I’d completely forgotten about that subplot. They each have their moments, mostly near the end of the book. The subplot with Virginia’s uncle in particular takes a dramatic turn that makes for some gripping moments.
One element that does stand out is the intensity of the characters’ sexual relationship. Bridges provides a couple of lengthy lovemaking interludes that should appeal to readers who sensual consummation scenes. It should probably noted that Zack is also a little more aggressive than we often see in romances these days, literally tearing her clothes open or grabbing her roughly. Naturally, Virginia gives in after a few token protests and enjoys herself mightily. It was a little off-putting for a moment, especially considering how inconsiderate he was of her feelings up to this point, but what followed was well-done.
The Engagement got off to a good start, but overall had a few too many weaknesses to be much more than average. I know several of my AAR colleagues enjoyed the author’s earlier Mounties book – The Surgeon – first book a great deal. That may be a better choice to start than this one.