I picked up Sara Portman’s The Reunion because the cover showed a pretty dress that isn’t falling off the heroine’s back, and because I hadn’t read this author before. While there were some entertaining moments, the romance was sadly lackluster and didn’t make me want to try the other books in the Brides of Beadwell series.
Lady Emmaline Shaw’s father arranged her engagement to John Brantwood, the heir to a duke, four years ago, but soon afterwards John disappeared and is rumored to have died. The last thing he said to her was that she didn’t look old enough to be out of the schoolroom, but was obviously old enough to want to be a duchess, so… good riddance. Emma now lives a quiet life in the country but her aunt persuades her to come to London for the Season. Lo and behold, who should appear but John, who became the Duke of Worley after his father’s death
He doesn’t recognize Emma, but she’s pretty and he’s in desperate need of a wife. See, John disappeared because his father’s jealousy made his mother flee to Boston, along with John’s little sister Charlotte. He believed they were dead, but once he found out they were alive, he went to Boston and supported them until his father died (this is an actual death), at which point he returned to claim the title. Now, all that matters to him is launching Charlotte into society
But Charlotte worked in Boston as a kitchen maid, so he’ll need a woman to teach her, and who better than his duchess? Emma reminds John who she is and says she wants to end their engagement, which convinces him that she’s the one. If she can stand up to him, she’s perfect. So he tells her he intends to marry her anyway, has the banns read without consulting her, arrives uninvited at her country home, and so on. Emma keeps refusing him until her odious neighbor threatens the life of a boy who does gardening for her, at which point she decides that if she’s a duchess, the boy will be safe. So she and John get married.
Until this point, the story was more or less predictable, but then came the part that sank the ship. Charlotte hates everything about her début, so she makes rude remarks and runs off whenever it’s time for a lesson. John protests, but takes a hands-off approach and has little to do with Emma except at night. Meanwhile, his friend Mr. Brydges keeps needling Charlotte into tantrums while John remonstrates uselessly. This culminates in a scene where, to stop Charlotte from stomping out of a room, Brydges lifts her by the waist and keeps her feet off the floor while she swings her fists wildly at him. It was like watching a really unfunny sitcom with characters who either avoid or hate each other. Naturally, Brydges is in love with Charlotte and expresses it by mocking her, while she reacts with the maturity of a toddler. I wasn’t feeling the romance.
Emma and John are little better. Emma is every bland heroine you’ve read about in a historical romance – selfless, beautiful, innocent but enthusiastic about oral sex, etc. Likewise, John is nothing new – he’s gorgeous, he slams his fist into furniture when he’s angry, and he avoids Emma because he’s terrified of falling in love. I mean it literally; when he thinks he’s in love, he’s overcome by panic, and bile rises in his throat. I thought he was about to have a seizure.
As for the plot, it’s actually multiple small plots. As well as Charlotte’s début and the secondary romance, there’s the introduction of the next heroine in the series, a Big Mis, and Charlotte’s evil former employer who travels to England to blackmail her. There’s not much room left for Emma and John to communicate or work together on anything besides having sex.
In contrast, when Emma talks to other women (Charlotte doesn’t count), the dialogue is relaxed and believable, with amusing observations. There was a marked difference between these sections and the ones which strained to squeeze as much alpha maleness as possible into the story. Unfortunately the romance relies on the latter, and so I can’t recommend The Reunion.