The Inconvenient Elmswood Marriage
When I read The Earl’s Countess of Convenience, the first book in Marguerite Kaye’s Penniless Brides of Convenience series, I was instantly intrigued by the character of Kate, Lady Elmswood, guardian to the three young women – her nieces by marriage – who were the heroines of the other novels in the series. In that book, we learned that Kate and her husband Daniel had been married for over a decade, but that theirs is a marriage in name only and they haven’t seen each other since they wed as Daniel spends his time travelling the world.
In the prologue, we meet Kate and Daniel a decade earlier, at a point when Kate, the daughter of Elmswood Manor’s steward, has actually been managing the estate for the past couple of years owing to her father’s deteriorating health. When the old earl dies, Kate, concerned for her future and that of the estate and its tenants, and needing to provide and care for her ailing father, conceives a daring plan as a way of doing all those things, as well as continuing to manage and improve the estate which is the only home she’s ever known. Daniel Fairfax – the new Earl of Elmswood – has no intention of settling in England and plans to return to his travels abroad as soon as his father’s estate is settled, and Kate seizes the opportunity to propose her audacious scheme; that they marry. This will enable Kate to all the things she wants to do and will benefit Daniel as he will be able to leave Elmswood knowing it is in good hands.
In the intervening decade, Kate became guardian to her husband’s three nieces (his sister’s children), all of whom have now found love and are making families of their own – and Kate is, for the first time in a long time, without a purpose and feeling a little adrift. The estate is running so well that it doesn’t really need her any more, and she is trying to decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life when she receives news that Daniel is seriously ill, and that she must travel to Cyprus in order to bring him home.
The months spent travelling to and then home via Crete, Malta, Gibraltar and many other fascinating places has brought home to Kate the narrowness of her world and made her realise that she has spent so long looking after other people that she has neglected to look after herself. She is now trying to decide what kind of life she wants to pursue:
“I can’t spend the rest of my life living vicariously through the girls. I want to create new memories for myself.”
It also became clear during the journey that her husband was not an explorer but some sort of spy.
Daniel is well on the road to recovery when they receive a visit from Lord Armstrong (who will be familiar to readers of a number of Ms. Kaye’s other books) and Sir Marcus Denby, who were the gentlemen who pretty much ordered Kate to go to bring Daniel home. When they leave, Daniel isn’t at all happy. He’s been ordered to stay at Elmswood for three months and to act the part of Lord Elmswood, disporting himself with his very faithful little wife, and he’s furious. He knows he’s being punished for the actions that ultimately caused his cover to be compromised and led to his capture, and feels as though he’s merely been transferred from one gaol to another. He has never troubled to hide his dislike of Elmswood and his desire to be elsewhere, but he has no alternative but to stay put until such time as his superiors are prepared to trust him with another mission.
Kate and Daniel’s story is as much about Kate’s desire to find a purpose and to broaden her narrow horizons and embark upon the next phase of her life as it is about discovering the reasons behind Daniel’s hatred of Elmswood and the mutual attraction growing between them.
I liked Kate, who is brave, honest, pragmatic and caring. She knows Daniel doesn’t want to stay in England and is fully prepared to make plans for her future that don’t include him, no matter how hard that may be after three months spent in his company and getting to know more about him. She’s well aware that the attraction she and Daniel share doesn’t mean to him what it means to her; she’s okay with that and wants to explore these new feelings of desire she’s experiencing, knowing it’s likely to be her only chance to do so. She’s prepared to risk the inevitable heartbreak for the chance of intimacy with the man she’s coming to love. Daniel is a complex character whose backstory is drip-fed throughout the story as Ms. Kaye slowly peels away the layers of a man who has spent so long pretending to be someone else that he has lost sight of who Daniel Fairfax really is. He comes across as rather cold and unfeeling to begin with, trying desperately to maintain his distance from his wife, to whom he is strongly – and most inconveniently – attracted. As the days and weeks pass, he finds Kate to be an interesting and inquisitive companion, a woman with a keen mind and a ready wit – and a bald honesty that sometimes makes him uncomfortable.
It’s hard to see how there can be a happy ending for two characters whose desires are so very different, but Marguerite Kaye pulls it off in a believable and heart-wrenching manner with both characters embarking on journeys of self-discovery that eventually bring them full-circle and back to each other in the full knowledge that they’ve found exactly what they need in one another.
The inconvenient Elmswood Marriage is an excellent character-driven romance featuring two complex and strongly-drawn protagonists. I had a quibble with one aspect of the plot (which I can’t say too much about because – spoilers) to do with the reasons behind Daniel’s hatred of Elmswood, but it’s a minor quibble and one that won’t prevent me from giving the book a strong recommendation.