A plain countess…
Tainted by illegitimacy, plain Sarah Martin has no illusions of a grand marriage. So when the Earl of Langford makes her a proposal which will take her one step closer to finding her half-sister, she can’t refuse!
Sebastian’s dreams of romance died with his late wife’s affair, so now he needs a convenient wife to act as governess for his silent daughter. Yet Sarah continues to surprise and challenge him, and soon Sebastian can’t deny the joy his new bride could bring to his life – and into his bed!
There are quite a few plot strands running through Married for His Convenience; in fact I’m not sure there aren’t a few too many. As well as the convenient marriage promised by the title, we have the subplot of the hero’s search for his missing son, the parallel plotline of the heroine searching for her long-lost sister, the hero’s electively mute daughter, a mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel type character called the English Lion, to name just a few … and it’s all crammed in to the usual (for a Harlequin Historical) 288 pages, meaning that some of those elements aren’t developed all that well and there are a lot of questions left unanswered.
Sebastian Hastings, Earl of Langford, gave up on love after the wife he loved to distraction ran off with another man, taking Sebastian’s two children to France along with them. The adulterous couple fled to France at the worst time imaginable (the book opens in 1793, so France wasn’t exactly the best place for an aristocratic lady to be), and although Sebastian’s daughter has been returned to him, his wife is now dead at the hands of Madame la Guillotine, and his son has disappeared.
Sebastian hopes that his friend, Kit Eavensham, may have received some news regarding Edwin from the English Lion. Kit tells him that the Lion’s contacts have established that there is no evidence of the boy’s death, but that is all he has discovered, along with the fact that Sebastian’s wife’s lover is at large somewhere, having escaped the Bastille.
During the course of his visit to the Eavenshams, Sebastian encounters Miss Sarah Martin, the ward of their neighbour, Mrs. Crawford, when Sarah is trying to rescue a wounded rabbit. Even her dowdy, unprepossessing appearance can’t disguise a certain irrepressible quality, and what Sebastian soon discovers to be a generally good-humoured, practical approach to life in spite of her impoverished circumstances. Deciding that her compassion for animals and everyone around her makes Sarah the ideal candidate, Sebastian asks her to marry him, plainly setting out his reasons for asking. His daughter has been so traumatised by her experiences in captivity that she has withdrawn from everyone and does not speak; her governesses have been overly harsh and he needs to find someone to properly care for her. It also seems he will benefit financially from remarrying – although it’s not made clear how or why. Sarah makes it clear that she is not interested in marrying just to improve her own comfort, but when Sebastian mentions that they will reside for some of the time in London, she very quickly accepts his offer and the wedding takes place quietly, a few days later.
Where Sebastian is up front about his reasons for marrying, Sarah is not. For years, she has been preoccupied with the idea of finding her half-sister, Charlotte, who continued to live in London after the death of their mother – and Sebastian’s offer now affords Sarah the chance to look for her. As soon as they arrive at Sebastian’s town house, Sarah heads off to Charlotte’s last known address, without any knowledge of the local geography, or any thought for her personal safety or her new position as a countess.
Sarah worried that telling Sebastian that she is illegitimate would cause him to withdraw his offer of marriage, so she doesn’t tell him about her sister – and keeping secrets naturally doesn’t help their fledgling relationship. Sebastian has trust issues anyway as the result of his first wife’s betrayal, so the idea that Sarah is keeping things from him only serves to magnify them. Fortunately, however, Sarah is sensible enough to realise that she can’t do everything herself and eventually asks for her husband’s help; Charlotte is found and restored to Sarah, and that part of the plot is neatly wrapped up. This still leaves the storyline about Sebastian’s son to be resolved, but this is rather rushed and when, towards the end, Sarah elects to follow Sebastian to a rendezvous on horseback, I really couldn’t buy it. The idea that she, who has only just learned to ride a horse, would be able to spend a couple of days in the saddle without doing herself an injury, is highly implausible; plus it wasn’t the done thing for a young lady to ride around the country on her own, not only for propriety’s sake, but because it wasn’t safe to do so.
Sarah and Sebastian are attractive characters who work well together. Sebastian starts off as your typical “once bitten twice shy” sort of hero, but he turns out to have more depth than it seems at first, and I liked his willingness to make changes in his life for Sarah and his patience with her. But even though I liked Sarah for the most part, there were times when I wanted to shake some sense into her. She’s straightforward without being irritatingly ‘feisty’ or contrary for the sake of it, but on several occasions she acts in a way that is naïve at best and selfish at worst. I know these actions are meant to show how kind and loving she is, but instead they show her to be suffering from a bad case of tunnel vision. Sarah is lucky that for the most part, Sebastian considers her lack of concern for the superficial to be rather endearing and refreshing; I didn’t always agree with him.
This is the first time I’ve read a book by this author, and while I liked it enough to want to read more of her work, I can’t recommend it without reservations. Ms. Webster can obviously create likeable characters and interesting plotlines, but she needs to resist the temptation to throw all her ingredients into the pot at once, as there are far too many plot elements for the page count and too many things that seem to happen at random and without explanation. Sebastian and Sarah have a genuine romantic spark, and the romance is sweet and well-paced, even though, because of the numerous plotlines, it is pushed a little to one side at times. I did, however, appreciate that Ms. Webster has developed an actual relationship between the couple and not relied on insta-lust and a string of sex-scenes – although the book is at the tepid end of the scale when it comes to the latter.
Married for His Convenience was an enjoyable way to pass the time, although I doubt it’s a book I’ll re-read. There are some interesting storylines here; I just wish Ms. Webster had used fewer of them and developed her chosen elements more satisfactorily. I will definitely read another book by her, and hope that perhaps she can achieve a more effective balance next time.