Oliver Goswick, Viscount Rathburn, needs money—and soon. With time ticking away and his inheritance held hostage until he’s properly wed, Rathburn’s slim options point to a single solution: a faux engagement. In need of the perfect bride, he knows of only one candidate: his best friend’s wallflower sister. The plan seems flawless, except for one problem . . . He can’t help falling in love with her.
Poised, polished Emma Danvers knows nothing good can come of Rathburn’s scheme. Spending the next two months engaged in a mock courtship is not what she’d imagined for her final season. Yet, charmed by his roguish ways and the inexplicable hammering he causes in her heart, she accepts his challenge.
For Emma, keeping the secret seemed easy when it was just a game . . . But as Rathburn begins to see past her reserved exterior to the passionate woman within, the risk of losing her heart becomes all too real.
I always approach a book by a new author with a bit of trepidation, wondering whether they are going to possess that extra special something that’s going to make me sit up and think that yes, here’s a new writer with a strong voice and something slightly different to say. Or a different way of saying it, at least.
Sadly, finding obtrusive Americanisms on the first couple of pages is enough to make me think that the anticipation was fun while it lasted and want to give up. And then I get annoyed because an author who is going to write a 19th century historical set in England should, at the very least, have looked up the fact that “tarp” is an abbreviation (of tarpaulin) which wasn’t used until the 20th century, and is principally used in America, and to know that we don’t have “sidewalks”. Incidentally, a tarpaulin at that time was, according to Wikipedia “a tarred canvas pall used to cover objects on ships”. Given the presence of the tar, such a thing is unlikely to have been used in the parlour of a home to cover the furniture in order to prevent damage.
And then there are the names. The heroine of this book is named Emma, which is perfectly fine. As is the name of her friend, Penelope. But Merribeth, Delaney and Bree? Are, of course, all traditional, English names which abounded in the early part of the 19th century. *eyeroll*
Having got that off my chest, I can now address the book itself, which is a gentle, unassuming piece of romantic fluff in which the hero and heroine, long-term friends, enter into a fake engagement so that the hero can come into his inheritance, which, by rights, he should have had years ago. An odd clause in his grandfather’s will has meant that his grandmother has the final say over when he gets his money, and she has made it abundantly clear that that will only happen once he is appropriately settled with a woman of whom she approves.
Oliver Goswick, Viscount Rathbury, had a reputation as a bit of a wild young man until a fire killed his beloved father and destroyed a large part of the family home. After that, the young viscount determined to eschew his former rakish ways and to restore the house, which he has been doing gradually, using money from his own pocket. He has also – and secretly – founded a hospital in his father’s name, one which he hopes will be able to provide specialist treatments to help burn victims. The problem is that without his inheritance, he will be unable to continue to fund both the hospital and the repairs to his home – so he needs to find a way to obtain the money quickly. His grandmother is coming to stay for a couple of months, so Oliver reckons that the fastest way to ensure the release of his money will be to pretend to be “settled” with the only young woman he knows of whom his somewhat intimidating matriarch approves – Miss Emma Danvers.
Emma is the sister of one of Oliver’s closest friends. She is a very proper young lady who frequently despairs of the antics of her parents, who are both artists, and therefore not respectable in the eyes of society. As a result, she has supressed her own artistic inclinations, and feels she has to work twice as hard as anyone else to maintain her respectability and to find herself a suitable husband – and by suitable she means someone who is the complete opposite of Oliver, whose constant flirtatiousness she finds far too unsettling.
With time running out, Oliver outlines his plans to Emma and her parents, and Emma – against her better judgement – agrees to play her part. It doesn’t take long for Oliver to admit to himself that marrying Emma for real is not such a bad idea and sets about trying to make his intentions clear in small, but marked ways. The problem is that Emma has for so long regarded him as an unmitigated flirt whose attentions mean nothing that he doesn’t make much headway – and soon they’re at the altar and the explanations are going to have to wait.
The fake relationship is a plot line I usually like, but this one was too full of holes to be terribly convincing. Firstly, once Oliver has decided there’s nothing for it but to embark upon a faux-betrothal, he approaches Emma’s parents with the idea in order to gain their approval. I liked that he was open about it, but for her parents to allow – and even encourage – such a thing and play fast and loose with their daughter’s reputation was incredibly reckless and showed rather poor parenting skills! At that time, it wasn’t the done thing for a man to cry off an engagement so it was down to the woman; even so, her reputation would be badly damaged, and it would be very difficult after that for her to find a husband who was even remotely suitable. And then there was the idea that, if the inheritance wasn’t forthcoming in time, Emma and Oliver would get married and then get an annulment. The annulment is often used as a method of getting out of an unwanted and unconsummated marriage in fiction, but unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple and non-consummation alone was not sufficient grounds for an annulment to be granted.
On the positive side, the writing is good and I liked the verbal sparring between the two principals. Both are attractive, likeable characters who are a good match for each other, and there is a nice smattering of romantic and sexual tension between them. But they spent too long faffing around, and worrying about admitting their true feelings for each other for no real reason that I could discern. I would also like to have explored Emma’s feelings about her art a little more. Mention was made of the fact that she had supressed many things about herself when she’d set aside her love of painting, but her reasons for doing that were barely touched on as were her motives when she started painting again.
I’ve given the book a C grade in spite of my reservations, because I think the author writes well, has shown that she can create attractive and interesting characters and that she is capable of penning a romance that feels “romantic” rather than pages and pages of mental lusting. It’s a pleasant way of spending a few hours and very readable, but I would have liked a little more depth to the characterisation and I wish Ms Lorret – or her editor – had done a bit more background research.