What a Gentleman Wants
What a Gentleman Wants has a good, interesting premise and an exciting finish. However, it suffers from the dreaded Sagging Middle. This one sags so much it’s scraping the floorboards.
Marcus Reece, the Duke of Exeter, is always bailing out of trouble his twin brother David. He longs for his sister’s debut next year – and then her marriage – so that it no longer matters if David causes a scandal, and so he can be cut loose to sink or swim on his own. After the latest incident, David had to get out of town for a while, and while racing his curricle down the road to Brighton, crashes right in front of a small village’s vicarage, breaking his leg.
The widowed vicar’s wife, Hannah Preston, takes him in and cares for him. Hannah has been widowed for six months and, along with her four year old daughter, is in the process of packing, for the new vicar is due to arrive soon. Hannah had a good marriage and is loath to give up the independence that comes from being the mistress of her own home, but with no money to her name, she has no choice but to return to her nasty father’s home and be a dependent household drudge.
David and Hannah become friends, and when he learns of her situation, he proposes marriage, to which she agrees. However, David’s restlessness reasserts itself and he knows he isn’t ready to marry, so he signs his brother Marcus’s name to the wedding register and, after depositing Hannah and her daughter in London, disappears. Hannah is horrified. Marcus is horrified and angry and accuses Hannah of complicity and fraud. And now Hannah is angry.
Hannah is a complication that Marcus doesn’t need right now; he already has his hands full trying to save David from being transported. Counterfeit banknotes are being passed in the ton and everyone who has them in their possession is connected in some way to David. Marcus was approached by bank officials who offered immunity to David if Marcus would help discover the ringleader.
So far, so good. It is an interesting premise, I like the charming, ne’er-do-well David, admire Hannah’s longing for a good life for herself and her daughter, and the whole are-they-married-are-they-not legal and emotional tangle with Marcus had promise. However, this is where things started to derail.
After David sends the wedding announcement to the papers, his and Marcus’ mother and sister arrive in town, thrilled to death about it all, so Marcus decides not to refute the marriage. He tells no one the truth, he bribes Hannah with a cottage and financial independence if she will pose as his wife for the rest of the Season, and he is perfectly happy to let all think they are married forever, as he has no plans to marry. I didn’t buy this at all. You can’t convince me that a duke, of all people, and one who is so careful with his family’s name and reputation, has no plans to marry and sire an heir. Especially when this would leave his screw-up brother as duke should something happen to him. No, I didn’t buy it at all.
And then the action and forward momentum of the story came to a complete standstill. Hannah and Marcus have the same arguments, Hannah and her “mother-in-law” have the same conversations, Marcus tries to uncover the counterfeiter in the same fashion by frequenting gambling dens. There are about 150 pages right in the middle of the book that is nothing so much as wheel-spinning. Very tedious. And there is little to no heat between Hannah and Marcus – they didn’t even have their first kiss until more than halfway through the book.
The last quarter of the book, when Hannah and Marcus finally admit their feelings and the whole counterfeit plot is resolved, did redeem the book somewhat, for parts of it were very exciting. So, the book ended well, but it wasn’t enough. I found David to be a much more interesting character than Marcus, and if he gets his own book, I may read that, in the hopes that Linden has worked out how to keep the middle of her book as appealing as her beginning and ending. Unfortunately, in the meantime, I cannot recommend What a Gentleman Wants.