An independent young woman of means, Miss Hannah Howard is as stubborn as she is beautiful. After she moves to London for her first season among the ton, she immediately finds herself in a heated dispute with her neighbor, the ill-mannered Gavan Dalreoch, Earl of Rhone. Giving the Earl a black eye is a lapse in judgment—even though the Scottish scoundrel deserved it. Now with her reputation in jeopardy, her only hope for saving face is the man whose face she bruised.
Gavan is content to live up to his rakish reputation, but with family pressuring him to marry, he and Hannah agree to get engaged just long enough to appear respectable. Yet as the charade continues with stolen kisses and a trip to Gavan’s Scottish castle, Gavan and Hannah discover that their false engagement may be more real than they imagined.
Kimberly Bell’s A Convenient Engagement is her historical romance début, a romantic comedy in which two feuding neighbours have to agree to a faux betrothal after the heroine, Miss Hannah Howard, is shunned by society because of what it sees as her hoydenish behaviour. The book is entertaining, the central characters are attractive and Ms Bell displays a deft touch with the humour, but while it started well (I was thinking I’d found a 4 star/B grade book), things went downhill after that and the novel didn’t live up to its early promise.
Gavan Dalreoch, Earl of Rhone, hasn’t been home to Scotland for sixteen years and intends to keep it that way. He’s perfectly happy wending his debauched way through London society – or he would be were it not for all the noise coming from the house next door which is undergoing extensive renovation. The continual hammering and banging only serves to exacerbate Gavan’s usual morning hangovers, and to make matters worse, his starchy, very proper cousin Ewan has just arrived from Castle Dalreoch to try to sober him up and guilt him into going home and fulfilling his responsibilities to his clan and the earldom.
After he’s ejected the two comely ladies currently sharing his bed, a furious, still drunk Gavan stomps to the house next door, insults the young woman who owns it and finds himself on the receiving end of her fist, falling down the steps and ending up flat on his back in full view of everyone on the select London street where they live.
When it emerges that Miss Howard’s reputation has been all but shredded because of such unladylike behaviour, Ewan, whose sense of honour and fair-play is unbending, demands that Gavan do something to help her – by marrying her, as it’s the only way to salvage her reputation in the eyes of society.
Naturally, Gavan is aghast – but Ewan’s method of persuasion is… unusual to say the least, and Gavan can do nothing else but agree. Well, sort of. He comes up with another plan. He and Hannah will become betrothed, and during the length of their engagement, he will introduce her to every eligible man he can think of so that she can jilt him and marry someone else.
When he proposes this idea to the stunned Hannah, she at first thinks he must have lost his mind. But she, too, sees that this is the only way she is going to be able to hold her head up in society, and agrees to it. For Hannah, this is her one chance to enjoy the delights of London and the Season. She is alone in the world now, having recently lost her autocratic, controlling father, and is determined to enjoy herself before retiring to the country to live out the rest of her days in quiet spinsterhood.
She doesn’t, however, tell Gavan that she intends never to marry. Her mother’s death turned her father into an automaton who had no time for his daughter and Hannah has no intention of falling in love and risking such an all-encompassing loss.
Gavan has his own inner demons, too, the ones that keep him away from home and living a life of drunken dissipation. His family situation is rather complicated; his father was not the man to whom his mother was married, a fact which is widely known and which meant that Gavan’s childhood was a difficult one. He left home as soon as he could, full of resentment towards his family and has never gone back, neglecting his tenants and his clan and carefully cultivating the lowest expectations possible.
Hannah and Gavan strike sparks off each other from the get-go, and their snarky banter is well done. They have great chemistry and I liked the way they came to understand and appreciate each other at more than a surface level. I also liked the little role-reversal the author engages in when she has Gavan be the one to admit his feelings and Hannah trying to deny hers and stick to her original plan of never marrying. On the downside, however, this is very much a wallpaper historical, and if it hadn’t been for a small number of pointers (reference to men wearing wigs, to the Jacobite cause and details about Gavan’s costume for a masquerade) I wouldn’t have been able to place it in any particular time-frame. There are also a lot of annoying Americanisms – we don’t have sidewalks, they’re pavements, Fall is Autumn, and we absolutely, categorically do NOT pour gravy on biscuits, which are sweet (think shortbread) – to list but a few. The overall tone is very modern, and although the author tries to explain away some of those modernisms (like Hannah’s frequent utterances of “Bloody Hell!”) by putting them down to the fact that she has lived outside society and doesn’t really know how to go on, it doesn’t wash.
But in spite of those negatives, I didn’t dislike the book and found it quite entertaining. For all his rakish ways, Gavan is a sexy, endearing doofus who undergoes significant change throughout the course of the story, and there is an engaging cast of secondary characters, from his enigmatic butler, Magnus, to the stock-in-trade but delightfully outspoken older lady who is probably the world’s most unsuitable chaperone. The author also makes some insightful character observations that give the story and characters a little depth, and that, together with the humour is what eventually put A Convenient Engagement into the 3 star/C grade bracket. It’s a light-hearted, funny romp, perfect for those times you want to switch off your brain and read something undemanding and don’t mind that the characters are essentially 21st century people dressed up in tight breeches and pretty frocks. But if you like your historical romance to have more historical content and accuracy, you’ll probably want to give it a wide berth.