Then Comes Marriage
Hot Water, California is clearly a happening place. And though Then Comes Marriage was my first visit to the former Gold Rush town, it most assuredly won’t be my last.
This book just works on a whole lot of levels. Two great lead characters – both amusingly eccentric and, at the same time, deeply traumatized from horrific incidents in their pasts – share the stage with a secondary romance almost as enjoyable as the main one. Add in a town full of terrific characters who very satisfyingly come to light, along with humor that flows naturally from those characters and the situations in which they find themselves, and you’ve got a lot of reasons to add Then Comes Marriage to your TBR pile.
To the outside world, heiress Honor Witherspoon may seem like a woman who has it all, but reality is far from the truth. Kidnapped and held captive by men who also sexually threatened her (First Comes Love), the FBI agent who shared her last days in captivity kept both of them occupied by relating stories of the small town of his childhood. During those unimaginably horrible days, Hot Water came to represent to the lonely heiress the love and community acceptance she had long dreamed of, but never achieved.
However, since Honor has a few more options at her disposal than you and I, instead of just moving to the small town, her father buys the town’s historic district and gives it to Honor to run. At the same time, he also purchases a security software company owned by Bram Bennett, a reclusive genius still reeling from the murder of his young wife eight years earlier. When Honor’s father accepts a foreign ambassadorship and has to leave the country, his approach to dealing with his growing security concerns regarding his daughter is a bit inexplicable. Believing that a man will do anything to protect his wife, he successfully bribes Bram and Honor to marry by threatening economic ruin to the town they both love.
Bram couldn’t be less interested in his new wife, leaving Honor, who somewhat cheerfully decides to make the most of it for the few months it will take to satisfy her father, with an almost impossible task. All she wants is acceptance from the town and if spending a few months as Bram’s wife is the price she has to pay, then she’s more than willing to pay it. But Bram stubbornly refuses to play along. Despite evidence to the contrary, he remains convinced that his new wife is spoiled, shallow, and not very bright.
Into this delicate balance comes Josh McCool, assistant to Honor’s father and a man determined to finally grab that elusive gold ring by marrying Honor once the temporary marriage is over. He quite likes Honor (and Honor returns the favor) and marrying her will conveniently solve so many of Josh’s problems. But the cool and confident young man’s plans are in serious danger the moment he sets eyes on Mia Caruso, Bram’s deliciously voluptuous housekeeper, who has some major self-esteem issues.
The marriage of convenience plot device isn’t one of my favorites, but once Ridgway sets up her story and gets things moving, I was able to just roll with it. Bram and Honor were terrific characters with believable and real reactions to the decidedly bad luck life had thrown their way. Their love story was a pleasure to read. But, I also have to admit that watching Mia, the beautiful small town girl who thinks she’s significantly overweight, take down the cool and physically stunning McCool (who’s never gotten over a childhood spent with a gambling-addicted grandmother in a single-wide) is just as much fun. Ridgway is very, very good at creating fully developed characters very, very quickly and even though they have far less time on center stage, Josh and Mia are three-dimensional people with all the shades and nuances happily intact. In case you can’t tell, I was impressed.
Though I did have a few quibbles, they are decidedly minor. To be honest, sometimes things got a little too self-consciously wacky for my taste, but just about the moment I started to get annoyed, Ridgway moved on. And Bram does take a long, long, long time to finally see the light. As a big city dweller, I also don’t think that everyone from the city is shallow and obsessed with designer names. Nice people live in big cities, too.
I haven’t even remotely touched on many of the plots and sub-plots going on in this book because I think you’ll have more fun discovering them for yourself. Equally, there are layers to the characters of Bram and Honor and the forces that have shaped them that are skillfully revealed in the development of the story. They add greatly to the book’s appeal.
After struggling through some disappointing reads lately, I’m delighted to have discovered a book that is intelligent, fun, and peopled with characters I’m glad I got to know. There are some gloomy, cold days ahead in the next few months and I’m planning to spend some of them exploring the author’s backlist.