THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
Elektra Worthington is the lovely middle daughter of the eccentric, impoverished Worthington family. Her beauty means nothing to her except as her currency to return the Worthington name to its former glory of status, riches, and dominance in the ballrooms of Regency England. To this end, she will stop at nothing—even if she must kidnap a rich lord in the process. If this lucky gentleman is just returning from a long absence and knows nothing of the Worthington reputation, well, a girl shouldn’t look a gift lord in the mouth…right?
THE PRICE OF PASSION
Lord Aaron Arbogast, returning to England after a decade-old scandal—of which he was not truly guilty, but instead took the blame out of loyalty to a good friend—is the last of his line. He will someday become the Earl of Arbodean and inherit the estate…if, that is, he can prove to his ailing grandfather that he is a reformed man. Falling for a woman like Miss Worthington could cost him everything. But his desire for her? Priceless…
With This Ring is the third in a series of books about the oddball collection of Worthington siblings. The focus here is nineteen year-old Elektra, who is determined to repair the family fortune by making a hugely advantageous marriage which will also serve to wipe some of the Worthingtons’ more outrageous and eccentric antics from the collective memory of society.
Lord Aaron Arbogast, heir to the elderly and cantankerous Earl of Arbodean, has recently returned to England following twelve years of self-imposed exile. A scandal involving the suicide of a young woman who was supposedly desperately in love with him prompted his departure, and he has spent the intervening time growing up and learning to be a responsible human being. His grandfather, the earl, is in poor health, so he summons Aaron has back to England. Aaron is determined to show that he is a changed man, having put behind him the hedonistic twenty-two year old whose name became a byword for scandal and shame. He hopes that his grandfather will approve his reformed way of life and settle the Arbodean fortune on him. He will inherit the title in due course, as he’s the heir, but the fortune does not go with it and is at the earl’s disposal. If Aaron is to be able to run the family estates successfully, he will need money in order to do so, otherwise he’ll be left with an empty title to watch his estates fall into disrepair.
Elektra Worthington is spirited, clever, and driven. She’s also incredibly beautiful and is set on using the thing she sees as her only asset in order to snag herself a rich husband so that she can use his money to restore her family home to its former glory. Her siblings are all somewhat self-absorbed or eccentric – or both – and her brothers, in particular, see her as being rather selfish and obsessed with fashion. They fail to see that for Elektra, clothes are a weapon and that dressing well in order to enhance her appeal is the best way she can think of to advance her plans for a grand marriage. She is utterly devoted to her family, believes she is the only member of it in a position to help repair their finances, and is prepared to sell herself to the highest bidder in order to make their lives easier.
At the top of her list of eligible bachelors is Lord Aaron Arbogast, and when fortune throws him in her way, she doesn’t hesitate and enlists her brother Lysander’s help in kidnapping that gentleman with a view to forcing him to marry her.
Unfortunately, however, her plan goes awry, and she is dismayed to discover that she’s not kidnapped Lord Aaron, but his manservant, Henry Hastings. Her dismay is increased because of the attraction she feels towards the man – who is very handsome, and, in spite of the situation, turns out to be kind and concerned for her welfare. And when he shows himself to have rather a keen understanding of her and her predicament…it just adds insult to injury to have found someone so perceptive that she can never have.
Of course, the reader is in on the secret that she really has kidnapped Aaron – and that he decides to keep his identity hidden because the last thing he needs when he’s trying to show his grandfather that he’s changed is to have become embroiled in some ridiculous escapade perpetrated by a madwoman. A very beautiful madwoman, it’s true, but a madwoman nonetheless.
Aaron/Hastings escorts Elektra (and her cousin Bliss, whom they’ve picked up along the way!) to London and is taken in by the bonkers Worthingtons, forging a bond with Elektra’s odd thirteen-year-old sister in the process, and discovering more in common with Elektra than he could have imagined.
The story that follows is well put-together (for the most part) with flashes of humour, tenderness and insight. Each of the Worthington siblings is very clearly delineated, as are their hippy-like parents, with Elektra’s brother Lysander being the most intriguing of the lot. Severely traumatised by his wartime experiences, Zander is very withdrawn and doesn’t say much, and certainly has a lot of potential as serial-bait. Also potentially very interesting is the understated relationship that I imagine has featured in the other two books in the series, between Elektra’s friend, the artistic modiste, Button, and his young protégé, Cabot. There’s a world of the unspoken and unacknowledged between them, and there were times I was more interested in the brief glimpses I got of their story than I was in the central romance. In fact, the way the pair are left in the pages of this book brought a lump to my throat!
My main quibbles with the story comes toward the end, when Elektra, with little evidence or effort, works out that Aaron is completely undeserving of the reputation that has attached itself to him. And then emerges his determination to leave her alone, because she needs to marry a man whose good name will help her family. That whole “we cannot be together for I am no good for you” storyline rarely works very well, and not only does it not work here, it and Elektra’s realisations about the truth of Aaron’s situation all take place within the last chapter or two of the book and feel very rushed as a consequence.
On the whole, With This Ring turned out to be rather more enjoyable than I’d expected given the stereotypical, naff cover and the fact that it starts with the heroine kidnapping the hero (insert eyeroll here). It’s well-written, although too modern in tone; it’s often quite funny, and the two central characters are attractive and easy to like, even though they ultimately proved as stereotypical as the book’s cover. If you’re in the mood for some light-hearted romantic fluff featuring a gutsy heroine, a misunderstood hero and a supporting cast of eccentrics, this might appeal. I haven’t read the other books in the series, but this one works perfectly well as a standalone.