The Secret Wedding
I don’t know why I don’t read Jo Beverley’s books more often; I always like them. After reading The Secret Wedding, I am determined to read fewer lame Harlequin Presents books this year, and more Jo Beverley.
This particular book is a real mixture of plot elements. Part Big Secret, part Road Romance, part Misunderstanding. It sounds like a mixed bag, but when put together it forms a harmonious whole. At the tender age of sixteen, Christian Hill rushes gallantly in to save a Dorcas Frogatt from dishonor, kills her erstwhile fiance (more or less in self defense) and is forced to marry the lady in question. A young military officer, he’s about to leave for Canada. He provides a false name – Jack Hill – and doesn’t even know whether the marriage is legal.
Ten years later, he’s all but forgotten about his youthful marriage, until a friend lets him know that someone is inquiring about a Jack Hill. Dorcas’s aunt wrote him years ago to inform him that his wife had died, but now he wonders whether that was really true. He sets out to Yorkshire to discover the truth behind the inquiries. Meanwhile, Dorcas, who now calls herself Caro, has some similar doubts. She was informed that her husband died in Quebec, but since she is contemplating marriage to another, she wants to make sure that she is truly free to wed. When Jack shows up at her home, she isn’t sure whether he is the man she married, but she’s sure he’s at least related to him (she remembers his distinctive eyes). He confuses matters somewhat by introducing himself as Grandiston (which is the title he just inherited). Panicking, she pretends to be a somewhat demented serving maid, then quickly flees to Doncaster, where her solicitor lives. Thinking he’s hot on the trail of something, Christian follows her coach.
Caro and Christian reconnect at a Doncaster inn. Caro is determined to go on the offensive. Having ditched her maid disguise, she looks completely different. She calls herself Kat Hunter – her own clever play on words, and introduces herself as a married woman whose husband is ill. One thing leads to another, and Caro and Christian become intimate. Both are still dancing around the truth, and neither wants to reveal too much. Then events shift again; Caro is accused of theft, and Christian once again comes gallantly to her rescue. They escape and go on the run, and as they flee their relationship becomes even more complicated. Both of them dance around the truth; in Christian’s case, it’s because he know Kat is lying (though he doesn’t know what she’s lying about). Both struggle with issues on honor; they are both pretty sure that they are married, but have no idea they are married to each other. Caro also has concerns about her finances. Her wealth tempted her long-ago seducer in the first place, and it’s only increased over the years. She’s afraid that her husband (or his relatives) might lay some claim to it. Caro ditches Christian in York and ends up seeking refuge with her friend’s husband (the famous Lord Rothgar, who figures in many of Beverley’s novels). Eventually, everyone meets back up in London, where revelations and reunions ensue.
Ordinarily, I find myself frustrated by books with Big Secret plots. While the characters go about their merry way, refusing to have the one easy conversation that would solve all their problems, I am usually sitting there gritting my teeth and wanting to knock their heads together. But I have to give credit where credit’s due, and go on record as saying that The Secret Wedding has a Big Secret plot that actually works. Why does it succeed where virtually all others fail? Primarily, it’s because the characters both have a strong motivation to remain quiet. Each is reluctant to trust the other, and for good reason. In varying ways, they have a lot to lose by being honest, and it even makes sense that they would each fail to recognize the other as their spouse. After all, their previous acquaintance lasted all of an hour and occurred a decade ago.
This is also fun as a road romance. Christian and Caro spend a lot of time traveling together, with all the adventure (and time together) that that implies. A lot of humor comes into play as well. They acquire a cat as a traveling companion, and in one amusing scene, they convince their hosts that it is a rare German cat/rabbit hybrid – that kills dangerous rabbits. It’s funny, and a little reminiscent of Georgette Heyer’s Baluchistan hound.
The only problem I’ve had with Beverley’s book in the past is that there are frequent visits by characters from other books – none of which I usually know. Sometimes they fit naturally in the plot, and sometimes they feel more like they’ve been awkwardly photoshopped in. In this case, I thought Rothgar and his wife fit well, and had a significant part to play. The insertion of Lady Huntersdown is a little less successful. Caro stays at her home when she is traveling to London with Rothgar, and though she’s never met Lady Huntersdown, they suddenly start conversing like best buddies. It might have made more sense if I’d read The Huntersdowns’ story, but it still seemed odd.
What really makes all of this work is that both Christian and Caro are likable characters. They are fun to read about and root for. And it’s nice to see a young marriage – made in haste and at under duress – work out in the end. I also have to give a shout out to Christian’s parents. Not only are they still alive and happily (very happily) married, they have thirteen children, all of whom are living. Christian’s relationship with his family adds a little tenderness and feeling to this mostly light-hearted book.
If you’re a Beverley fan, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with The Secret Wedding, and even sometime Beverley fans are likely to enjoy it. If you’ve never tried Beverley, this is a good one to start with, particularly if you enjoy a good road romance with a bit of humor. The characters make it all worthwhile, and the Big Secret plot is carried off with aplomb.