The Wagered Wife
Wilma Counts’s The Wagered Wife is a rare thing indeed: a big misunderstanding story that actually worked for me.
The Honorable Trevor Jeffries lost his twin brother and a friend in a curricle racing accident four months ago. He blames himself bitterly and forswears all equine sports forever, while his siblings try to rouse him from his self-pity and make him move on with his life. He proceeds to drink too much and lose everything he owns while gambling with Baron Fiske. The baron offers him a final wager: If Trevor wins, all his debts are forgotten. If he loses, he marries Baron’s ward on the next Saturday.
He loses, of course, and on his wedding day he finds out that his bride is Caitlyn Woodbridge, the daughter of a country vicar. Trevor’s family is definitely not delighted with the match and try to persuade him to get an annulment or a divorce, and Trevor is unhappy when he hears the on dit that the hasty marriage was necessary because Caitlyn was pregnant with another man’s child.
Trevor believes the gossip and flees the situation by joining the fight against Bonaparte, leaving Caitlyn to take care of herself on his estate, Atherton. His aunt Gertrude, who is one of the few members of Trevor’s family who does not think Caitlyn’s child Ashley was conceived out of wedlock, joins her, and together the two women develop Atherton into a profitable enterprise. Caitlyn resists all attempts to get a quiet divorce, and Trevor’s family never acknowledges her.
Seven years later Trevor comes back a war hero. Seeing how much Ashley resembles his sister, he cannot but recognize her as his own, and he returns to Caitlyn’s life in the role of a father. Whether or not he can take the role of a husband again is uncertain, considering the wounds caused by seven years of bitterness. Both have changed: Trevor is no longer the insecure young man who went off to war to avoid confronting a possibly unfaithful wife, and Caitlyn has gained new friends and more self- confidence. Trevor is jealous of her new mostly male friends while Caitlyn fears that Trevor might still want to divorce her and that she would be separated from Ashley.
There is lot to like about The Wagered Wife. Wilma Counts’ writing is clear and I enjoy her dialogue. She expresses a lot of emotion by subtle touches, looks, and gestures, which made the characters seem real to me. While the big misunderstanding about Ashley’s paternity lasts for seven years, the book glosses over the separation and concentrates on the couple’s efforts to build bridges across the chasm. Trevor’s jealousy causes a crisis, but it’s resolved without chapters and chapters of sulking, and their emotions were for the most part believable.
Although this is a thoroughly enjoyable read, it is not without some flaws. The death of Trevor’s brother, for instance, felt too much like a plot device. The book concentrates more on his attitudes towards the horse-racing that caused the accident rather than his dealing with the death itself, which seemed out of balance. And while glossing over the seven year separation made the Big Mis quite tolerable, it also left a blank spot; I would have preferred it had Trevor related any of his war experiences to Caitlyn once they were together again.
Wilma Counts is definitely an author I am going to watch for in the future. The lead characters, their growth, and the poignancy of the storyline made this one of the best Regency Romances I’ve read in some time.