After waiting five years for her fiancé to return from the war and marry her, Roxana Langley has been jilted! She may have longed for excitement, but this was not what she had in mind….
Who could possibly throw over a woman as beautiful and vivacious as Roxana? Certainly not Alex Winslow, the Earl of Ayersley, who has spent years trying in vain to forget his unrequited love. When he learns she’s been abandoned by her cad of a fiancé, he finds himself offering a shoulder for her to cry on. Comfort soon turns into a passionate kiss – and scandal when they are caught in an embrace.
Only one thing will save Roxana from certain ruination: marriage to the earl. The match may save her reputation, but responsible, tongue-tied Ayersley is a far cry from her dashing former fiancé. She’s convinced Ayersley is merely doing his duty…while he’s sure Roxana is still in love with another man. Are they trading one disaster for another?
This is another of the books that’s been languishing on my TBR mountain for a while that I decided to listen to rather than leaving it buried on the pile for much longer.
The marriage-of-convenience is one of my favourite plots in romance novels, so I came to this one with fairly high hopes of enjoyment, and I wasn’t disappointed. The story is well-told and the writing and characterisation are very good and the author, while basing her story on a series of misunderstandings and misconceptions, managed to make them fairly believable, even though there were times I felt like I wanted to smack both the hero and heroine and tell them to sit down and TALK properly!
One of the things I enjoyed and thought was a little different from the norm was the fact that in this story, the hero has been secretly in love with the heroine for years. He’s titled, rich and good-looking and takes his responsibilities as landowner and ‘lord of the manor’ very seriously, so seriously in fact, that he is thought by some to be rather dull. He has some very deep-seated insecurities about his suitability for the position he occupies and works himself incredibly hard as a result. Roxana, however, has eyes only for her handsome, soldier fiancé, and has in fact been convinced of the hero’s indifference due to the fact that he rarely speaks to her or seeks her out. What she doesn’t know of course is that Alex Winslow, despite being an earl and a highly respected MP, is so much in love that he is terrified of making an idiot of himself around her and therefore opted to keep his distance. He’s a lovely beta-hero, the epitome of the strong, silent type who will take a lot of crap, but only to a point – after which he comes out fighting and God help whoever gets in his way.
At the beginning of the book, Roxana Langley is shown to be rather an immature heroine. Blinded by the looks and charm of her fiancé, George Wyatt, she is easily lead by him into thinking ill of others, especially of Alex Winslow, who George categorises as a ‘dull dog’ and crashing bore. In that respect, she reminded me a little of Elizabeth Bennet, who is lead into similar cruelty and insensitivity under the influence of Wickham.
When George breaks off their five-year engagement, Roxana is devastated. The author has already sewn enough seeds of doubt as to the true nature of George’s character by that point for the reader to realise that his protestations to Roxana that amount to “it’s not you – it’s me” are hiding something else entirely, but I thought it was a clever move not to reveal him as an out-and-out cad right from the start.
As stated in the synopsis, Alex and Roxana have to marry due to the gossip that he has compromised her. Unlike many of the marriage of convenience stories I’ve read where the hero tells the heroine she can do whatever she likes as long as she is discreet, in this, the one thing Alex insists on is fidelity. Roxana cannot conceive of ever being unfaithful to him – principally because she believes herself to be frigid; she had not enjoyed George’s kisses or embraces (although she liked Alex’s well enough!).
Alex has also given Roxana to believe that he is in love with a girl he met in London, so both protagonists enter into the marriage believing their partner is in love with someone else.
Many of the misunderstandings between them actually arise as a result of Roxana’s rather clumsy attempts to explain her feelings to Alex. When she tries to talk to him about her fear of disappointing him in bed, she phrases things so awkwardly as to make him believe she is telling him that he can never match up to George. Alex is (of course) an experienced, tender and generous lover, but Roxana is so constrained by her fears that she never lets herself go, which naturally disappoints him, even though he tries not to show it. And towards the end of the book when she feels that Alex is deliberately distancing himself from her, she tries to ask him if he regrets marrying her but makes it easy for him to misconstrue what she says, which leads him finally to fly into a towering rage and walk out on her without giving her a chance to explain.
I thought his refusal to listen to her was perhaps a little contrived, but when seen in the context of Alex’s character – he’s not given to fits of temper, and is generally quite guarded of his emotions – it works. He’s so desperately in love and has been so weighed down by his own insecurities and his fears about Roxana’s feelings for George that he can’t take it any more and just blows!
Both Alex and Roxana grow as characters during the course of the book. Alex learns to let his hair down a little on occasion and that having a wife means that he doesn’t have to bear all his responsibilities alone; and Roxana learns to appreciate her husband for the man he is (I liked the way he became more and more outwardly attractive to her as the book progressed) and to understand why he works as hard as he does and to share his aims and enthusiasms.
If I had a niggle with the book, it was with the fact that the early part of the story was perhaps a little too focused on Roxana’s family life, and we waited a teeny bit too long for our first sight of Alex. But I thought that the scenes which dealt with Roxana’s disappointment at George’s lack of attention worked very well to build up a picture of his true character and ultimately to the scene in which he jilts her.
Overall, I thought this was an enjoyable take on a well-used trope. The storytelling and characterisation were excellent and the central couple were both likeable and engaging.
In terms of the audiobook, Rosalyn Landor’s performance is, as always, superlative. Her voices for the different female characters are all very distinct so there is never any confusion as to who is speaking, and the tone she employs to voice Roxana’s five-year-old brother is clearly a boy rather than a girl! George is suitably pompous-sounding, while Alex is somewhat softer – I thought she did a really good job in conveying his below-the-surface frustration at his awkwardness and his insecurities. Her narration is also beautifully nuanced – I’ve listened to some narrators who, while quite good with the characters seem rather wooden when simply telling the story, but that is never the case with Ms Landor.
To sum up, I highly recommend both the book and the audiobook, depending on your taste.