The Runaway Heiress
The Runaway Heiress is a Marriage of Convenience story, a plot that usually works well for me. Unfortunately this one didn’t.
Undine Moore, called “Dina” by everyone, is the victim of one of those pesky Will stipulations: she must marry before her 25th birthday, in four days, or control over her inheritance will go to her bullying, spendthrift, Dirty Dish brother Silas. She had an elopement with her timid neighbor all worked out, but when he reneges, fearful of Silas, Dina continues on to Scotland alone, hoping to find a husband along the way.
Also on his way to Scotland is Grant Turpin, called “Thor” by everyone (because he’s so darn big – more on this later), chasing after his sister Violet who has eloped with a fortune hunter.
They all meet up in Gretna Green where Dina averts Violet’s wedding, not for any altruistic reason, but for her own purposes: she hopes to convince the fortune hunter, that as her fortune is larger than Violet’s, he should marry her instead. He is on the verge of agreeing but skedaddles when Big Thor arrives.
Thor is grateful to Dina for “rescuing” his sister and asks how he can repay her. She says that he can marry her, and, after hearing her story and knowing from personal experience what a Dirty Dish Silas is, he reluctantly agrees to a Marriage of Convenience. As one would expect, along with this agreement is the mutual stipulation that physical relations are to have no part of their “marriage.” But what about succession? Thor is the heir to a barony after all. I wondered about that myself, but this, apparently, is a trifling concern.
Of course, Dina and Thor begin to care for each other and wouldn’t mind rethinking that no-physical-relations clause if it weren’t for one thing: Thor is very, very big, and Dina is very, very small. Yes, this is the crux of the matter and the central conflict in the novel. Thor is afraid that he will crush, rip asunder, or at the very least, maim Dina if he were to make love to her. So he absents himself, leaving her with his parents and sister to go hunting, while she does Good Works in the parish and exercises.
Yes, exercises. We know that Dina is more sturdy than she appears, for we are told, at great length, all about her physical fitness regimen; her daily calisthenics, how she shadow boxes and lifts weights, fences and shoots, all taught by an obliging uncle when a child, to help her deal with insecurities over her small stature. Dina is a regular Pocket Amazon and well able to withstand Thor’s Mighty Thunderbolt if only given a chance.
Dina started out the book as a woman of purpose, who takes her fate into her own hands. She was not particularly likable in Gretna Green, but I’m not a person who demands that heroines be perfect. I like character growth; I like people who change because of love. It is why I read romance. Well, Dina changes after marrying Thor – she turns into a wimp despite how much she can bench-press. And she worries: worries about her brother, worries about getting along with Thor’s mother, worries whether Thor will ever make love to her. Thor never changes. He just wishes his wife were more like the “strapping” (this term is used repeatedly) country women in Thor’s sexual past; women big enough, robust enough to handle his passions.
There is some business with the hoydenish Violet and the Dirty Dish Silas, who, though everyone knows is a Dirty Dish, is inexplicably gathered to the family bosom until everyone remembers what a Dirty Dish he is, not once but twice. I have no patience for characters who are either willfully blind, or stupid – the only explanation I could see for this plot line.
Though I turned the pages quickly enough, I prefer my heroes and heroines to have more character development than deciding that they will “fit” after all.