The Improper Wife
I’m a sucker for a good marriage of convenience story, and this one features a terrific twist.
Our story gets off to a very exciting start as the hungover Captain John Grayson, back in England on leave from the Peninsula, answers his front door to find a woman in the throes of labor and asking for her husband: Captain John Grayson. Well, first things first, and Gray successfully delivers the woman of a baby boy. After all, he says, “I grew up on a farm and have witnessed calving and lambing and…what might you call it?…kittening?”
This John Grayson is not the same one that Maggie Delaney married, though they have the same life history. After a whirlwind courtship, elopement and heated argument where Maggie shoved her “husband” into a river only to have him swept away and never seen again, Maggie found herself pregnant and fearful that she was a murderess. When she saw in the newspaper that Captain John Grayson, younger son to the Earl of Summerton, was in London, she hunted him down, only to find he is not the man she married. What is she to do now?
Thankfully, Gray is a deeply honorable man, and though he assumes she is a schemer, she is also obviously in need of help, so he delivers her to his cousins, leaving money for them to help Maggie get back on her feet before he returns to Spain. His cousin finds Maggie and “Gray’s” marriage lines and she and baby are moved to Gray’s family home, where they should remain until Gray comes back home and to his senses to claim them.
Maggie finds there a home in turmoil and despair. Fearful of her future and willing to anything for her son’s well-being, she allows all to believe she is Gray’s wife. But she also knows that she can be of use here and vows to do all she can to bring the place and its people back to life in exchange for sheltering her and her son.
Two years pass and, after Waterloo, Gray returns to England to the news that his wife and son are prospering at Summerton Hall. Though he and his father have been estranged years since Gray bought his army commission, he goes to confront his “wife”. There he finds that Maggie has made herself indispensable. Not only is his family the better for Maggie’s presence, the estate is prospering under her care and the bailiff sings her praises. It will not be easy to dislodge her and convince anyone that she is not his wife.
So begins an interesting marriage of convenience story where there is no marriage as they decide to simply continue as they are, enacting the married couple while each begins to contemplate the idea of making it a reality. Though the question remains – who did Maggie “marry” and where is he now?
I liked both of these characters. Maggie is strong woman, and though she suffers guilt for impersonating Gray’s wife, she is pragmatic and enough of a realist to know that she will do anything to keep her son safe and to give him a chance at a good life. She is supremely aware of what she owes the Summerton family and while she begins her efforts on their behalf out of indebtedness, she quickly comes to love them and Summerton for themselves. Gray is a stand-up guy, deeply honorable, deeply conflicted about some of his actions whilst in the army, and deeply confused about what to do with Maggie, though he knows what he’d like to do with her.
I did have some concerns about how they chose to remain married without actually marrying. I mean, if Gray was willing to go the rest of his life without marrying so that Maggie could pose as his wife, why not just marry her and get it over with? They both know her first “marriage” was invalid. And Maggie took far too long to come clean with Gray about her history with her supposed husband. While we know his identity almost from the beginning, it would have been very easy for Gray to figure it out as well and resolve all these issues if she’d only talked to him about it.
But overall, I enjoyed this very much. The pacing is good, the writing very readable, with strong consistent characters and a compelling story. This is the first American release for Diane Perkins, though she has two books published by Mills and Boon under the name Diane Gaston, which I will be seeking out to hold me until her next Warner release.