James Hargrave, Earl of Arden, urgently needed a wife–and who better than his best friend’s sister?He wasn’t looking for passion in this marriage of convenience and plain Kate Honeycourt had been on the shelf for years. Why, then, should she so firmly turn him down? Surely she couldn’t be holding out for a love match? Although, curiously, the more he saw of Kate, the more aware he became of her attractions. Maybe love wasn’t as impossible as he’d once thought….
I read this book a couple of years ago and was less than impressed with it. To be honest, when I looked back on it, I couldn’t remember much about it, but some of my longest-standing Goodreads friends, people whose opinions I value and often share, really liked it, so I slated it for a re-read.
I’ve finally got around to that re-read –and all I can say is that perhaps I wasn’t in the right frame of mind when I read it first time around, because it’s a really good story with a lovely, well-developed central romance between two strongly characterised protagonists, as well as a sweet secondary romance and a broadly, but well drawn supporting cast.
James Hargrave unexpectedly became the Earl of Arden a year previously following the tragic deaths of his father and brother. On top of having to deal with their loss, and still troubled by his wartime experiences, he also has to contend with the fact that if he is to retain his inheritance, he must take a wife before his thirtieth birthday. This is less than two months away, and as he has so far not found any woman he wishes to wed, he has travelled to visit his best friend, Harry, Viscount Honeycourt with a view for offering for his twenty-eight year old, red-haired, freckle-faced, on-the-shelf sister. James has known Kate forever and thinks that as they at least know and like each other, he might as well marry her as anyone. After all, all cats look alike in the dark, don’t they?
Kate has loved James ever since they were children, but unfortunately for him, overhears the conversation with her brother in which he says quite plainly that he doesn’t love or desire her; he just needs a suitable wife he will be able to get along with and who won’t drive him out of his mind with idle chatter or unreasonable demands.
Knowing that Kate had nursed a youthful infatuation for him, James is fairly confident of success, but when he proposes, her reaction is not what he expects. Knowing that being married to the man she loves so desperately while he has married her merely for the sake of expediency would be torture, Kate turns him down flat, offering instead to find him a wife from amongst the local marriageable young ladies. James really doesn’t want to go down that path and hasn’t got time to waste, but he nonetheless agrees to Kate’s plan – on one condition. If none of the ladies she introduces him to take his fancy, then she will marry him herself. Reluctantly, Kate agrees to this, certain that he will find someone else more appealing than he obviously finds her.
James is immediately thrust into a humorous round of teas, dinner parties and outings, but each lady he sees lacks something he absolutely must have in a wife. And not only that, but he gradually begins to see Kate in a different light and to realise that he finds her both attractive and desirable – and that each of those qualities he had found lacking in the other ladies are ones Kate possesses.
It’s not long before James realises that he’s fallen head-over-heels for Kate, and that he doesn’t want to marry anyone but her. But she persists in trying to find him someone else, and finally, in the face of his unequivocal declaration of love, tells him that she’d overheard him talking to her brother and the things he’d said about her.
And thus, the eponymous Earl’s Dilemma. With time fast running out, how can James convince Kate that his love and desire for her are real?
I said originally that I felt James’ turnaround in his feelings for Kate happened too quickly, but that isn’t the case at all. He doesn’t have a sudden epiphany, or see her wearing a flattering dress or something like that; the realisation that she attracts him creeps upon him gradually – and at first, unwantedly – following each visit to the suitable young ladies of the neighbourhood, all of whom pale in comparison to Kate. The romance is sweetly sensual and the author adds depth to both characters’ backstories by showing us how James continues to be affected by his memories of war and how Kate’s deep-rooted insecurities about her looks are re-inforced by the meddling aunt who continually belittles her.
So I’ve changed my rating, because I really enjoyed The Earl’s Dilemma this time around. The story is well-paced, the central characters are likeable and well matched, and the emotional connection between them is palpable. It’s a quick, but satisfying read and I’m grateful to Miranda and Lady Wesley for the positive comments that encouraged me to give the book another try.