Lady Elinor Dunsmore made the mistake of falling for her older brother’s best friend, who vanished after a night of unbridled passion. Six years and a lifetime later, their eyes meet across a Paris salon. Her friends and family believe she’s dead, but Elle is very much alive. She’s now associated with a ruthless general, who wants her to seduce the man who broke her heart in order to learn his deepest secrets. Is Will a mild-mannered scholar—or the notorious agent they call The Razor?
The bastard son of an earl and an actress, Will Naismith always knew he was an unsuitable match for Elle Dunsmore, no matter how powerfully he ached for her. And yet he almost allowed his desires to spoil her glittering future. After the agony caused by Elle’s supposed death, Will has devoted himself to the Crown, but his entire life has been leading up to this unexpected reunion. As much as he still wants her, though, he must not succumb to lust once again. For his mission is delicate—and Elle is delectably dangerous.
This second book in Diana Quincy’s Rebellious Brides series is an enjoyable story of lovers reunited liberally sprinkled with a dash of intrigue and a soupçon of suspense. The author’s style is immediately engaging and the novel is well-paced, with the inclusion of a few flashbacks to flesh-out the protagonists’ shared history. The central characters are attractive and the romantic chemistry between them simmers nicely, but there are too many obviously manufactured misunderstandings and secrets throughout the story for me to have been able to rate it more highly.
In a prologue which takes place some six years before the start of the story ‘proper’, Lady Elinor (Elle) Dunsmore, the daughter of a marquess, and her long-term friend Will Naismith slip away from the hustle and bustle of her eighteenth birthday party. Will has loved Elle forever, but one doesn’t trifle with one’s best friend’s sister, and in any case, Will was born on the wrong side of the blanket so there is no possibility of there being anything between them but friendship. When Elle shows signs of being as smitten with him as he is with her, Will tries hard to maintain his distance and to behave honourably, but Elle’s eagerness and her allure are too much for him to resist, and they make love passionately under the stars. He determines there and then that no matter what, they will be married, and fully intends to ask for her hand the next day.
An unfortunate series of events delays him – and by the time he is able to get away and return for Elle, it’s too late. She married a vicomte and went to live in France with him, only to die in childbed almost a year later.
Fast forward six years, and Will is in Paris, where he has, ostensibly, been invited in order to assess the authenticity and value of an ancient coin a colleague of his wishes to purchase. Always the scholarly type, Will’s interest is numismatism (the study and collection of coins) and his reputation has grown steadily over the years, so much so that he is recognised as an expert in the field and is regularly called upon by collectors for advice. He is at a society gathering with a couple of friends when – incredibly – he sees Elle, very much alive and completely breathtaking.
Not surprisingly, Will is stunned and assailed by many conflicting emotions; relief that Elle isn’t dead, angry and hurt because she’d left him for another and he’d mourned her not once but twice; and bitter because he believes that she can’t have cared for him at all and had just used him to satisfy her sexual curiosity. Their first encounter in six years is guarded as they circle around and attempt to gauge each other’s reactions without giving away too much, but even through the hurt and the mistrust it’s clear that they still care deeply for each other.
Elle’s husband died some years earlier, but she has only recently returned to Paris society and nothing is known about her whereabouts in the interim. She is widely rumoured to be the mistress of Général Gerard Duret, one of Napoléon’s chief intelligencers, but is not – not yet, anyway, although the man is certainly determined to have her in his bed. However, Duret wants more from Elle than her body; he is blackmailing her into helping him to unmask Le Rasoir , a highly efficient and audacious English spy who has so far eluded capture. When he tells her the man he wants her to seduce is none other than Will Naismith, however, Elle is incredulous. The very idea that the quiet, studious, Home-Office clerk could be a spy is ridiculous, but Duret is holding Elle’s six year-old daughter which gives her little choice but to do as she is told.
In spite of their mutual mistrust, Elle and Will find themselves reluctant allies when he helps her to escape from Duret and then escorts her back to England. Will comes to realise that he has jumped to conclusions about Elle that were undeserved and the two gradually reconcile, although Elle is still keeping a huge secret which threatens to derail their re-kindling romance. Both characters are attractive and fairly well-rounded, and the author does a good job of showing that they have never stopped loving each other in spite of the past and the obstacles that lie between them in the present. I confess to having a bit of a soft spot for a geeky but fiercely intelligent and super-efficient hero, so Will – who is also auburn-haired and bespectacled (be still, my beating heart!) – is rather appealing, despite his initial coldness towards Elle.
The story is well put-together for the most part, but I had a problem with the number of wrongly jumped-to conclusions, the secret-keeping and the misunderstandings, all of which are too contrived and at times took me out of the story. At the start, Will is bitter because he believes Elle used him, and he finds it easy to think the worst of her. Elle senses his hostility and immediately shuts him out, being deliberately obtuse because she’s annoyed at his high-handedness and hurt that he could believe ill of her. These attitudes persist well into the book, and watching them take two steps forward and one step back in their relationship on several occasions was frustrating. Towards the end, just as things are looking up between them, Elle’s final secret (which, by this time, the reader knows) is revealed and sends Will into another sulk, this one far less justifiable. I could have bought his initial anger and hurt over what he believed to have been Elle’s rejection of him, but his reaction to this is way over the top. But he’s not the only one at fault; Elle had opportunities to tell him the truth but kept deciding that it wasn’t the right time. As any regular reader of romance knows, procrastination in such situations always works out well.
I didn’t dislike A License to Wed, but I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly. It’s certainly worth checking out if you enjoy historical romance/spy stories; and if you’re not too bothered by the prospect of the secrets and misunderstandings perhaps it may work better for you than it did for me. Ms. Quincy is an author I’m going to be keeping an eye on as she writes well and has the ability to create a decent plot and strong characters, but she needs to find a way of introducing and sustaining conflict that is believable and appropriate. I’ll probably check out the next book in this series to see if she manages it.