I like Rexanne Becnel. I’ve read a few of her books, and I liked them. So, when I was assigned The Matchmaker, I expected to like it as well. The dialogue between her hero and heroines has always been well done, something I appreciate in a love story. And though her books are far from frivolous, judging from the title and cover, I anticipated a frothy Regency-era romp about a scheming young woman who tries to match up all her friends with suitable gentlemen. A less worldly Dolly Levi, circa 1818.
What I got was not what I expected, for The Matchmaker is a character study of a deeply tormented man and the young woman who, for reasons of her own, tries desperately to avoid men in general, and him in particular.
When Lord Neville Hawke meets Miss Olivia Byrde, he is drunk, mistakes her for a willing bit of fluff, and treats her accordingly. But Neville is always drunk, at least he is at night. It’s the only way he can keep the demons at bay until dawn when he can finally go to bed and sleep without dreams. He has a terrible secret, one that drives him to the drink, one that haunts him without mercy.
As for Olivia, she is appalled by Neville’s behavior toward her, and she makes a notation to that effect in her matchmaking book. For three years, Olivia has kept notes on every unattached gentleman she has met, in the hopes of matching them up with the appropriate miss on the marriage mart. She has made two such successful matches already, and considers herself a savior of her acquaintances in danger of potential disaster. She also has a thrice-widowed mother, Augusta, who is gently scheming to reel in Number Four, a twelve-year-old half-sister who misses her late father, and an older half-brother, whom she loves, but doesn’t understand.
Since her come-out, Olivia has received many offers (she’s a stunner) and turned them all down flat, much to her mother’s chagrin. When Augusta gets wind of Neville’s interest in Olivia, she tries to urge her reluctant daughter in his direction. It turns out they have adjoining estates in Scotland, and a union between them would be of benefit to both. But Olivia is not to be nudged. She is attracted to Neville, but she’s only seen his bad side and refuses to believe anything good about him.
From that tentative foundation, Neville and Olivia try to maneuver their way around each other. Neville’s experiences at Ligny have left him emotionally broken. He first lusts after Olivia, then begins to want her because he feels she can fill in the lonely gaps in his life. She’s beautiful and smart and he enjoys her conversation and company. But Neville is far too like Olivia’s ne’er-do-well late father (Augusta’s second husband), so she pushes back as hard as she can.
I loved Neville. Every minute, I loved Neville. I was sad for him and there were times it hurt to read about how much he hurt. I wanted Olivia to stop throwing roadblocks up in front of him so she could take her in his arms and make everything okay.
Olivia was more difficult to like because she was so stiff and resistant, making every encounter with Neville a battle. To her credit, however, she was never mean to Neville and never mean-spirited. She was simply too young and naïve to handle her own demons and Neville’s as well. While it bothered me when reading the book, in retrospect, this is exactly how an innocent, very young and naive girl would have handled a worldly man. She was afraid of him and her own sexuality, so she kept him at an arm’s reach.
We know these two are perfectly matched and are meant to be together. The middle of the book tended to lag a bit and the self-talk these characters had came awfully close to being overly repetitive, but when I finished the book, it was with a great sense of satisfaction. Not a keeper, but darned close.
The secondary characters are well done. Augusta seems, at first, to be stereotypical, but she’s not. In the end, she proves she knows her men, and that she’s not afraid to go after what makes her happy. She also loves her children and tries very hard to guide them without being overbearing.
The Matchmaker is not light and it is not frothy, and you may find Olivia irritating at times until you figure her out. I can almost guarantee you’ll love Neville, however. He is a true gentleman and never wavers from what he knows is right. And he’s so wounded, you want nothing more but for him to live happily ever after. This is a read I can definitely recommend.