1871 . . . Worlds collide when American Suffragist, Gertrude Finch, and titled Brit Blake Sanders meet in an explosive encounter that may forever bind them together. Gertrude Finch escorts a young relative to London and encounters the stuffy Duke of Wexford at his worst. Cross the Ocean is the story of an undesired, yet undeniable attraction that takes Blake and Gertrude across an ocean and into each other’s arms.
A thoroughly unsympathetic hero at the start, Blake Saunders, Duke of Wexford is certain of his place in the world, arrogant and rather stuffy. At the beginning of the story, we learn that his wife of eighteen years has left him and that he is far from broken-hearted. In fact, he is more concerned with appearances and how he is going to explain the situation to his children and his friends and hold his head up in society. He’d never really loved his wife, so reading between the lines it’s easy to see why she finally left – she was unappreciated and unloved, and her husband, like most society gentlemen, kept a mistress.
But when Blake meets Miss Gertrude Finch, a distant cousin of one of his friends, he finds his ordered existence and his assumptions that he will automatically receive the deference due his station are turned on their heads. Miss Finch is outspoken, has no care for what society may say of her and certainly no care for what a puffed up and self-important member of the British aristocracy thinks.
They take an instant dislike to each other – he doesn’t like that she says what she thinks, and she thinks he needs taking down a peg or several; but that dislike doesn’t stop him from grabbing her, in full view of his friends and children and snogging the life out of her. Needless to say, both Blake and Gert (as she is called throughout) are horrified (even though they admit to themselves – individually – later on that it had been one hell of a kiss.)
Their mutual antagonism and attraction continues until one night, Blake ends up in Gert’s bed and they make love. He proposes marriage, as he feels is his duty, but Gert will have none of it, and shortly afterwards, boards ship to go home.
Unbeknownst to her, William, Blake’s eldest son has stowed away on board, believing that it is his only chance to see something of the world. William – or Will, as he becomes known – is quite happy to bunk down and work as a member of the crew, seeing it as part of his adventure. Back in England, Blake has hidden himself away in order to nurse his wounds, and doesn’t discover his son’s absence for a week. Will expects his father to send someone to retrieve him – but instead, Blake decides to go himself, to retrieve his son, and, he hopes, to see Gertrude again.
I rather enjoyed the descriptions of Blake’s journey through the ‘wilds’ of America, accompanied by his faithful valet, Benson, to turns out to be a handy chap to have around. Blake goes from being an upright and uptight nobleman to a man who is finally learning what is important in his life. He sleeps outdoors, gets set upon by ruffians, helps to deliver a baby, hunts for his dinner and generally ‘roughs it’ – and realises that he feels freer than he’s ever felt in his entire life.
When Blake and Gertrude finally reunite, he is shocked to discover that she is pregnant – and she still refuses to marry him. He sees that he has not treated her as well as he could have done, but what he doesn’t know is that her refusals of his suit are not just down to his behaviour. Gert was abandoned by her father at the age of twelve, and lost her mother to illness shortly afterwards. With her dying breaths, her mother cautioned her against men like her father – handsome charmers who leave when they’re done – and Gert sees history repeating itself in her relationship with Blake.
Although he wants desperately to stay with Gert at least until the baby is born, problems in England mean he has no alternative but to return home, with Will at his side. I felt the ending was a little too drawn out, but I suppose all’s well that ends well.
Overall I enjoyed the book and I thought the story was solid and for the most part well-realised, but there were several things that prevented me from giving it a higher rating.
There were several typographical and grammatical errors in the copy I received, but more annoying was the way that the characters referred to Blake, who was the Duke of Wexford, by his surname, Sanders. I can understand that perhaps the author was trying to show that Gert was unimpressed by the ceremony accorded a British peer, but even Blake’s stickler of a mother-in-law also referred to him in the same way, as did many other characters. And then there was the way that on several occasions in the early part of the book Blake grabbed and kissed Gertrude in public and in front of his children. I imagine this was partly to convey the fact that his wits fled him completely in Gert’s company, but it still doesn’t feel right that a man who was brought up to be very aware of his consequence and always to act in the proper manner would so completely ignore all the rules by which he had lived his life. Also, the way that many of the other characters spoke candidly to and with Blake about his sex life just didn’t ring true.
There was also the matter of his divorce. His duchess leaves him at the beginning of the book, and yet it’s only about eight weeks later that we are told the couple are divorced. I know divorce was possible in 1871, but it certainly wouldn’t have taken a mere two months. The timespan of Gertrude’s pregnancy is similarly truncated; she is suffering from morning sickness and has missed her period on the boat back to America, but when Blake arrives at her home just a few weeks after she does, she is already obviously pregnant. Blake stays at the ranch for a few weeks before he has to leave – and when Gertrude decides to pursue him, we’re told she’s eight months pregnant. Given that her sea voyage took six weeks from the UK to America, I’d guess it would have taken the same in the reverse direction, in which case, she should have given birth on board!
I know that picking up on things like this may seem unnecessarily pedantic, but they were things that broke the flow as I was reading and took me out of the story.
On the positive side, I thought that Blake’s relationship with Will was well written, and I liked the way that Blake came to see the difficulties about how to deal with his eldest son, a boy on the verge of manhood who would naturally look to his father for guidance. Blake realises that he would be giving Will advice that he himself had ignored because, of course, Blake hasn’t behaved well towards his wife, having openly kept a mistress. He is also made uncomfortable when realising the double standard he is maintaining when he assures his daughter that her husband would have to answer to him should he prove unfaithful like the majority of the wealthy and titled husbands in society. His devotion to his children really shone through, however, even when he was being his most ducal and asshattish.
The story was entertaining overall, and I liked the way that Ms Bush managed to redeem Blake, who spent most of the first half of the book being, in Gert’s words, a horse’s arse. Given the reservations I’ve outlined, I enjoyed the Cross the Ocean and would certainly give it a qualified recommendation.