At long last, Britain is at peace, and General Jack Armstrong is coming home to the wife he barely knows. Wed for mutual convenience, their union unconsummated, the couple has exchanged only cold, dutiful letters. With no more wars to fight, Jack is ready to attempt a peace treaty of his own.
Elizabeth Armstrong is on the warpath. She never expected fidelity from the husband she knew for only a week, but his scandalous exploits have made her the object of pity for years. Now that he’s back, she has no intention of sharing her bed with him—or providing him with an heir—unless he can earn her forgiveness. No matter what feelings he ignites within her…
Jack is not expecting a spirited, confident woman in place of the meek girl he left behind. As his desire intensifies, he wants much more than a marriage in name only. But winning his wife’s love may be the greatest battle he’s faced yet.
This is easily one of the best historical romances I’ve read. The story of a marriage of convenience is not an unusual one in the genre, but what I really liked about this one was the fact that at least a third of the book is taken up with showing us what life is like for the protagonists after they have made a go of their marriage and admitted their love for one another. In many books, that’s more or less the end of the story, but not here.
The characterisation in the novel is excellent. Jack and Elizabeth come across as real people with real flaws, and their marriage, while eventually very happy, has its ups and downs, and they regularly tease each other about their annoying habits. Jack is a soldier through-and-through, having joined the army at sixteen and spent most of his life away from England in the US and mostly, Canada. The historical detail is well-researched in the sections which describe some of the actions in which he was involved, and I especially liked the way that the author showed us exactly what it meant – to Jack – to be a military man. There’s a moment in the last section of the book where he is recalled to active service where he says that at last, he feels like a whole man again; which is no reflection on his wife or his marriage, but it tells us so clearly how he defines himself. That is not to say that he is dissatisfied with the life he has with Elizabeth, and to her credit, she understands that; it’s just who he is.
Elizabeth is strong and capable; in her husband’s long absence, she learns to manage his home and farm and is making a place for herself in the rather limited local society until a malicious neighbour informs her rather gleefully of Jack’s activities over in Canada, and from that point, Elizabeth becomes reclusive, unwilling to subject herself to the scorn and pity of others.
I have to point out here that Jack is unfaithful to Elizabeth in the early days of their hasty marriage. I know that for some people adultery in a romance is a big no-no, and no matter how good the book is, they won’t want to read it. If that’s the case, then this might not be the book for you. But what happens happens “off-screen”, as it were, and while it’s not something one might wish to condone or excuse, I think the reader has to bear in mind that at the period at which the novel is set (and even today) even the best of husbands were not always faithful. Jack does have reasons for his behaviour – even though they can’t excuse it.
So the first part of the book details how Jack and Elizabeth eventually reconcile and fall in love, and it’s quite beautifully done, especially in the early stages, when Elizabeth is beginning to fall for the man writing her such charming letters. But when he returns, she doesn’t hold back her anger when telling him how much he has hurt her; this is another thing I liked very much in the book – this couple communicates verbally as well as sexually and their marriage is very much an equal partnership.
Naturally, things cannot remain as settled as they are, and as soon as Jack hears news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba, he is anxious for a new army posting. Elizabeth doesn’t understand his thirst for action, but she accompanies him to Brussels, where they wait and join the social whirl that is the calm before the storm of Waterloo.
But there is one more crisis to be faced when on the eve of the battle Elizabeth receives some information that could separate her and Jack forever.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. The writing and characterisation are both excellent, and the relationship between Jack and Elizabeth is beautifully drawn. They are warm, fallible and somehow ordinary in a way that characters in novels often are not, so I mean that as a huge compliment!
I loved it, and am definitely looking forward to reading more work by this author.
With thanks to Carina Press and NetGalley for the review copy.