Heiress Adelaide Ashfield lost her trust in men years ago. She spurns the advances of society’s most eligible bachelors, but time is running out. Forced to make her choice, Adelaide accepts the hand of Gabriel Hughes, Earl of Wesley.
Despite his debauched reputation, Gabriel shies away from intimacy. But his marriage to Adelaide awakens a desire he never thought he’d feel again. Maybe his beguiling new bride is the key to shaking off the shame which has haunted him for so long…
The second book in the author’s Penniless Lords series, Marriage Made in Shame started well. I liked the two leads, the romance, while somewhat predictable, was being well set up and I was almost three-quarters of the way through the book before I even noticed, which is always a good sign. But then things went off the rails a bit; the relationship between the protagonists lost its way, the ending was rushed and Ms James’ prose turned rather purplish, meaning that the book was ultimately a disappointment.
Gabriel Hughes, Earl of Wesley is charming, stunningly handsome, and almost broke thanks to the profligacy and poor judgement of his father and grandfather. During the recent war, he worked as an intelligence officer for the British government, ruthlessly exploiting his good looks and reputation as a skilled lover in order to obtain information from bored wives and mistresses if that was what was required. Even knowing that he probably helped to save the lives of many, he nonetheless can’t feel proud of his methods, but now he is trying to put that part of his life behind him and rebuild his life and fortune in England.
Following his return, however, he was tasked with one last mission; to discover the identities of a ring of Englishmen with revolutionary sympathies rumoured to be funding Napoleon’s push into Europe. During the course of his investigations, Gabriel cultivated a relationship with the wife of one of his suspects, Henrietta Clements, but before he could act on his suspicions, a devastating fire at his home killed Henrietta and severely injured Gabriel. He can remember little of that night, but his physical scars and persistent nightmares serve as a reminder of all that he has lost.
And in what he regards as a supreme stroke of irony given his past as a womaniser, Gabriel has been rendered impotent and finds it almost impossible to endure a woman’s touch. It isn’t until he meets Adelaide Ashfield, a tall, attractive woman with a surprisingly candid manner of speaking that he finds himself interested and attracted to a woman for the first time in the months since the fire.
Adelaide has come to London for a short time in response to the pleas of her uncle and aunt. She has no interest in marriage, preferring instead to tend her medicinal herb garden and to expand her knowledge of the healing arts. Her uncle persuades her that he is not doing his duty by her by not taking her to London as her late parents would have wished, and so she reluctantly agrees to go for three months, fully intending to return home at the end of that time in the same unmarried state.
She’s never seen a man as handsome as Gabriel Hughes, and, in spite of his rakish reputation, finds herself drawn to his keen intelligence, humour and the sense that there’s more to him than his splendid and slightly foppish appearance would suggest. He is completely unacceptable as a suitor, and seems just the sort of fortune-hunter she has been warned against, but she can’t help the way her heart skips a beat every time she sees him.
Gabriel and Adelaide are engaging characters who both have their reasons for eschewing romantic relationships, and who are, to an extent, social misfits. Gabriel’s despair about his condition rings true, even if at times he’s too close to self-pity, but on the whole, I enjoyed his interactions with Adelaide and the way they gradually draw closer. The romance develops slowly –partly out of necessity – but it works well and doesn’t feel as though it is progressing too slowly.
The problems with the book start after the pair get married. Gabriel can’t bring himself to divulge the nature of his situation to his new wife and, being a virgin and a woman without any close female friends, Adelaide isn’t quite sure what to expect. She does know, however, that there should be a bit more to married life than kissing, especially given that Gabriel’s kisses leave her feeling oddly edgy. Thankfully, however, Gabriel does eventually find the balls (!) to fess-up, and it seems as though things are looking up for the newly-weds when Gabriel’s past comes back to haunt him and places Adelaide in danger.
Everything after this point seems to happen at lightning speed, the writing becomes somewhat disjointed and I started feeling rather lost. This is a romance, so Gabriel needs to be “cured” in order to assure the required HEA, and that also happens in the blink of an eye. I am no expert in these matters, but clearly Gabriel’s issues were psychosomatic rather than physical, so Ms James’ solution is plausible. Unfortunately, however, I was reminded of Steve Martin hollering “I’m young again!” in L.A Story which did rather spoil the moment, and the purple tinge that crept into the writing didn’t help much, either.
I didn’t dislike the book; in fact, I was completely caught up in it for the bulk of the story, but the last ten or fifteen percent of it felt like the author was in a rush to finish it and some of the writing on the last few pages made me cringe. In some books, it’s possible to overlook certain weaknesses because there are other factors which make it possible to do so, but I’m afraid that isn’t the case here. I’m not completely sure what went wrong, but the last section of Marriage Made in Shame turned a B grade book into a C grade one.