Truly a Wife
Rebecca Hagan Lee’s fourth book in the Free Fellows League series, about a boyhood club whose members took an oath to be heroes for England in the fight against Napoleon, suffers from two of the most dreaded maladies in romance: Implausibility Syndrome and Sequelitis.
Daniel, Duke of Sussex, has always pined to be included in the group. Due to his help in past Free Fellows books, he is given membership and an assignment – to head up a smuggling band that is cover for covert operations against France. He is shot in the side returning from a mission, but is patched up and on his way to London to deliver his dispatches. Almost as important is his attendance at his mother’s ball that night, for he must dance with Miranda.
Miranda is the Marchioness of St. Germaine, one of that very rare breed of nobility, a peeress in her own right, having inherited the Marquisate from her father. Several years ago, Daniel danced attendance upon her and they were well on their way to falling in love when Daniel realized what he was doing: He’s not ready to settle down yet! He wants to be a Free Fellow! He wants to be a spy against France! He can’t get married! So, Daniel abruptly stopped calling on Miranda and they have since become verbal adversaries. However, Daniel always makes sure to dance the first and last dances of every ball with her, though he says it is because he is one of the few men the statuesque Miranda doesn’t put into the shade.
At his mother’s ball, Daniel’s wound opens and Miranda helps him affect his exit. When they are seen getting into her carriage, Daniel knows she is hopelessly compromised and instead of going to a doctor, he decides that he must marry Miranda – right now! – to protect her. And so, bleeding and half drunk from all the whiskey he has ingested for the pain, he finds a handy bishop; one who will issue a special license and perform the ceremony right there in the carriage. And because the marriage must be a secret (why? This is never adequately explained) the bishop happily gives them one month to return and sign the parish register.
There is just so much wrong with this scenario, that I hardly know where to begin. How about here: only the Archbishop of Canterbury could issue a Special License and they were not necessarily easy to come by, despite standard Romance Land practice. A regular bishop could issue a regular license, but the marriage would then have to take place in the church. The idea of rousting a bishop from his bed, he blithely issuing a special license and performing the ceremony right there in the carriage while still sporting his nightcap is patently absurd, and frankly, insulting. And legally, the parish register recording the marriage must be signed “immediately” – not in a month’s time. I almost got whiplash from the excessive eye-rolling I did in this chapter.
Daniel passes out after the wedding and Miranda takes him to an empty house she happens to own (her late father’s “love nest”) and cares for his wound. When he awakes and seems horrified at the very idea of marriage, Miranda lies and tells him that he fell asleep before the vows could be taken. Again, why? It’s not like she won’t have to tell him eventually. But when he is well enough to leave, she returns to her home, with no word of the marriage to anyone.
The absurdity of the wedding and the secrets each kept were annoying enough, but then here come the other Free Fellows. There are a couple of chapters devoted to the history of the Free Fellows; who each of them are, who does what within the organization, actions taken in past books, etc. And then there is another long chapter whose sole purpose is to recap the last book’s romance, which, it seems, takes place simultaneously with this one. Very little of this was in any way necessary to the telling of this story and so came off as nothing more than filler for Ms. Lee to make her word count, and I really resented having to wade through it all.
I generally enjoy Second Chance romances and did like that Daniel and Miranda were obviously in love, had been for several years, and took the first opportunity and excuse that presented itself to get married. The scenes of them together portrayed this aspect very nicely. However, their actions after the wedding, the implausible situations and all the extraneous Free Fellow Folderol cause this book to collapse under their own weight.