When the Marquess Was Mine
Amnesia plotlines aren’t easy to pull off well, so I’ll admit to a little trepidation when I picked up Caroline Linden’s When the Marquess was Mine, book three in her Wagers of Sin series. Fortunately, she handles that aspect of the plot well and also creates a wonderfully romantic love story with plenty of delicious sexual tension between two attractive leads. Where the book does come unstuck though, is in the final twenty percent or so, which feels like it belongs in a completely different novel. This section picks up a plotline set up at the beginning, but which then mostly disappears (of necessity because the hero can’t remember it!) until the last few chapters, so it seems like a complete add on, and the whole book feels unbalanced as a result.
Robert Churchill-Gray, Marquess of Westmorland, heir to the Duke of Rowland, spends most of his time kicking up his heels with his similarly dissolute friends in London. He’s handsome, wealthy and popular, eschews the marriage mart and has a bit of a reputation for sharp-tongued arrogance, and on the evening of his twenty-ninth birthday, is joined for an evening of debauchery by a few of his closest friends. Ending up at the Vega club, they, along with a few hangers-on, settle in for some high-stakes play but things go awry when Sir Charles Winston ends up wagering his house in order to stay in the game. Rob, his friends and even the manager of the club try to dissuade him, but the man will not be gainsaid – and Rob ends up winning the pot.
Lady Georgiana Lucas is enjoying her visit at the Derbyshire home of her friend Kitty, Lady Winston, when Kitty receives a letter from her husband that implores her to deny admittance to the Marquess of Westmorland because he has behaved dishonourably and is intent on ensuring the ruin of the Winston family. Kitty is, naturally, very worried by this, but Charles has couched his letter in such vague terms she doesn’t know exactly what is going on. She doesn’t know Westmorland, but Georgiana has crossed paths with him occasionally in London and knows him to be tall, handsome and lethally charming – as well as an ill-mannered, mean-spirited and notorious rogue. She’s still smarting over the comments she’d overheard him make at a soirée in the spring, when he’d made some very unflattering remarks about Georgiana and one of her friends, suggesting they were nothing but shallow, silly flirts who revelled in teasing men.
A few days later, and news of Winston’s loss in the card game has spread, together with stories maligning Westmorland’s honour and accusing him of stealing Winston’s house. Having received a very to-the-point letter from his mother telling him to do something about it, Rob decides upon a course of action and sets out for Derbyshire in order to carry it out. He’s not far from his destination when he’s set upon by three men and badly beaten. If not for Georgiana – out for a ride with her groom – he might have been killed, but she insists he be taken to Osborne House and a doctor sent for.
It’s not until they’re able to clean him up a bit that Georgiana recognises the bludgeoned man as Westmorland and has to think quickly if she’s to prevent Kitty from blowing up and refusing to help him (which Georgiana thinks she may well do, given that she’s received a couple more letters from Charles, each one painting the marquess as blacker than before.) So she tells Kitty that the man is Lord Sterling – the man to whom Georgiana has been betrothed for the past two years – and as Kitty has never seen Westmorland, she doesn’t question the assertion.
Rob is in a pretty bad way and it’s a few days before he regains consciousness. Georgiana worries about the truth coming out when he awakens, but to her surprise – and relief – he turns out to have no memory of who he is or why he is in Derbyshire. Georgiana is glad to have a bit of breathing space to work out how and when to tell the truth, but also feels guilty about lying to her friend. And as the days pass, and Westmorland starts to regain his strength – though not his memory – she starts to feel guilty about lying to him, too, especially as he’s turning out to be nothing like the haughty, arrogant individual she believed him to be.
Rob remembers nothing of the attack or of proposing to the beautiful young woman he awakes to find sitting at his bedside. And as he gets to know her, he starts to believe that he’s been a pretty miserable excuse for a fiancé over the past two years. Georgiana lets slip that she’s only received one letter from Sterling in all the time she’s been away from London, and that their betrothal has been so drawn out because her brother is being awkward about the settlements. Rob decides, then and there, that he’s been an idiot and decides to woo Georgiana all over again (as he thinks) and to show her that he’s no longer going to take her – or her affections – for granted.
This is, without doubt, the best part of the story. Rob is an absolutely gorgeous hero, sweet, affectionate and falling hard for the woman he believes is his fiancée, while Georgiana is tormented by guilt over the lies she keeps telling and by her growing feelings for a man other than the one she’s engaged to. Rob is charming and pays her the sort of attention she’s never received from any man – and she can’t deny the heady feelings of excitement and desire he evokes in her.
Rob and Georgiana have terrific chemistry and their romance is simply lovely. Rob is so obviously smitten and determined to be a better fiancé than he thinks he’s been, and I loved seeing him encourage Georgiana’s more adventurous side; she really blooms under his affection, becoming more confident and ready to stand up for herself and her wishes. And as Rob recovers his memory, he starts to realise that perhaps he needs to make some changes of his own and that he’s done things in the past that don’t exactly cover him in glory.
But there’s a big problem with the novel as a whole, and it’s one that has prevented me from awarding a higher grade.Early on, we learn that Rob is doing some sort of work for the government in order to help a friend who is trying to expose some illegal slave trading (Britain outlawed slavery in 1807, but there were companies that exploited the loopholes in the law and continued to deal in slaves in other British territories). It’s all a bit vague and disappears for most of the story until it pops up again near the end, when Rob and Georgiana and some of their friends conspire to lay a trap in the form of a high-stakes card game… and honestly, I was bored.
Setting aside the poorly placed and poorly executed subplot, When the Marquess was Mine features a beautifully developed, warm and sensual romance between two really engaging principals, and I really do recommend the book for that alone. But having the story dragging on for another few chapters once the HEA was assured was a bad idea because it meant I finished the book feeling irritated rather than satisfied.