Married in Haste by Cathy Maxwell (audiobook) – Narrated by Virginia Leishman

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A scandalous gamble . . .

With her exceptional beauty, heiress Tess Hamlin has been dubbed “the Incomparable” by the lords of the ton. Though she can have her pick of suitors, Tess has no desire to wed. She’d rather delight in the intoxicating effect she has on men when she enters a room. But when she makes a daring wager and must secure a marriage proposal in one evening, she plays a dangerous charade with the first man who’s ever set her pulse racing.

Leads to the most unexpected passion . . .

As the new, impoverished Earl of Merton, Brenn Owen needs to find a wealthy wife—and fast. He can think of no better woman than Tess. She’s stunning, intriguing— and rich! Utterly captivated by Tess, Brenn vows to have her. When news of Tess’s wager breaks, her brother, who hopes to avoid the ensuing scandal, accepts Brenn’s offer to marry his sister—much to Tess’s dismay. Now will a marriage made in haste lead to disaster . . . or the most blissful desire?(

Rating: B-

Married in Haste is a fairly run-of-the-mill marriage-of-convenience story in which both protagonists enter into the arrangement under completely false pretences.

Tess Hamlin is an acknowledged beauty and despite having been out for several seasons, has not yet accepted any of the numerous proposals of marriage she has received. She likes to have a string of admirers, but has not yet found a man she can like or respect enough to entrust with her future. In fact, she isn’t at all sure she wants to marry –she has a fortune (and a mind) of her own, and is reluctant to surrender her independence.

Her brother Neil, however, has other ideas. Or rather, her brother’s wife does, and can’t wait to get Tess married off and out of their house for good. So when Tess creates a scandal which threatens to ruin her reputation, Neil, eager for an easy life, jumps at the chance to see her married to Brenn Owen, the new Earl of Merton.

Brenn, a former military man, has come to London in search of a rich wife. His estates in Wales are dilapidated and he needs to marry money in order to repair and rebuild, so he is delighted when the chance to marry Tess and rescue her from scandal presents itself. She’s beautiful, intelligent and incredibly wealthy, so Brenn counts himself fortunate – money and looks together are more than he dared hope for.

But what neither he nor Tess knows is that her money is all gone, spent and badly invested by Neil who was unable to get at his own money due to entails and other legalities. When she finds out, she is horrified – but is encouraged by Neil not to say anything to Brenn until after the wedding has taken place. She is not happy about the deceit, but mistakenly believing Brenn to be wealthy decides to do as Neil asks.

From then on, of course, it gets harder and harder for them to tell each other the truth. They find that they like each other and enjoy each other’s company, as well as enjoying each other in bed, and it’s not long before Tess realises she has fallen in love with her husband. Brenn is attentive and kind, and Tess starts to believe that the feeling is mutual.

But the time for honesty eventually arrives, and Tess’s dream of love and a home of her own crumble around her, as she realises Brenn married her for her money.

Fortunately, Tess is not one to fall into hysterics or to be defeated by setbacks. Instead of falling into a swoon or railing at Brenn, she realises that what’s done can’t be undone and that she has to make the best of it. She gets to work – coming up with plans for the house, thinking of a way to raise money, hiring servants; but her illusions have been shattered. She has as little to do with Brenn as possible, having decided she needs to make her own life without relying on him – and as the work on the house progresses, Brenn realises that he needs to woo his wife.

The story won’t win prizes for originality, but the central characters are likeable, and I enjoyed seeing Tess, a spoiled darling of the ton show real backbone in the way she adapted to the realities of her marriage. Brenn is handsome and charming with a mischievous sensed of humour, and he cares passionately about his home. His treatment of Tess when she reveals she has no money is somewhat unkind, but once he realises what he’s done, he sets to his wooing with a vengeance. (And lots of flowers!)

It’s an enjoyable enough story, something for when you want a decent, not-too-taxing read.

The audio version I listened to was narrated by Virginia Leishman. Her performance wasn’t spectacular, but certainly more than half-way decent, and I’d be quite happy to listen to her narrate other books. The one complaint I have is that while I can accept that Brenn, having been educated in England would not necessarily have a Welsh accent, I did think that the villagers and servants at Erwynn Keep, most of whom were Welsh speakers, should have had local accents. Instead, Ms Leishman had a tendency to veer further north and towards the north of England and Scotland for those characters. But other than that, her character voices were fairly distinctive, and I didn’t discover any annoying vocal ticks.

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