Major Calbourne Rutherford returns to England on the trail of an assassin, only to find he’s become Lord Ashendon, with the responsibility for vast estates and dependent relatives. Cal can command the toughest of men, but his wild half-sisters are quite another matter. They might just be his undoing.
When he discovers that Miss Emmaline Westwood, the girls’ former teacher, guides them with ease, Cal offers her a marriage of convenience. But strong-minded and independent Emm is neither as compliant nor as proper as he expected, and Cal finds himself most inconveniently seduced by his convenient wife.
Emm knows they didn’t marry for love, yet beneath her husband’s austere facade, she catches glimpses of a man who takes her breath away. As pride, duty and passion clash, will these two stubborn hearts find more than they ever dreamed of?
I will admit that I was a little apprehensive about picking up Marry in Haste, the first in Anne Gracie’s new Marriage of Convenience series, having been rather disappointed with the last couple of books in her Chance Sisters quartet. But the premise of a hastily arranged marriage of convenience drew me like a moth to a flame, and I’m so glad it did because this is a delightful book and I loved it to bits. The two principals are beautifully drawn, well-rounded characters, and the hero – who is simply adorable – experiences a lot of of genuine personal growth throughout, something the author shows us beautifully without feeling the need to post signposts or drop anvils on our heads. There’s an entertaining secondary cast who likewise develop as the tale progresses, the romance is just lovely and I turned the final page feeling thoroughly satisfied with the outcome and confident that this hero and heroine were going to be happy together long after they’d reached their HEA.
Major Calbourne Rutherford – Cal to his friends – has spent the last decade fighting England’s enemies on the continent. With the Napoleonic Wars ended, his army duties have changed somewhat in the direction of diplomacy and intelligence work; the map of Europe has undergone such major changes over the past few years, that there are many negotiations to be made and settlements to be reached, and Cal is anxious to return to his post and his role in those events. But his current mission is one of a more personal nature. He is on the trail of the notorious assassin who murdered one of his closest friends, and after searching for him for two years is pretty sure that he is an English sharpshooter. Cal has returned to England determined to hunt him down once and for all – only to be greeted with the unexpected news of the death of his older brother.
Becoming an earl was never on Cal’s agenda. A second son, he was sent to school at the age of seven and at seventeen, was given the choice of going into the army or the church. The army suits him and he likes the life, but he knows he is ill-equipped to take on the responsibilities that go hand-in-hand with a large estate and a peerage. And when he visits Bath to check up on his half-sisters, he also realises that he has absolutely no idea what to do with two suspicious, disobedient young women of eighteen and nineteen have a penchant for going their own way and making mischief.
It’s immediately obvious that Cal can’t leave the girls in the care of their Aunt Dottie, who, while she loves them dearly, has no control over them, so he approaches the headmistress of the school they attended to see if she will take them back – but she refuses. While on his visit there, he encounters Miss Emmaline Westwood, one of their former teachers, and hits upon the idea of hiring her to look after the girls until such time as he can get them married off. But she also refuses, leaving Cal with quite the quandary, which is then made worse when he discovers that his older brother left behind an eighteen-year-old daughter that none of the family knew about.
Faced with not two, but three female relatives he doesn’t know how to deal with, Cal again approaches Miss Westwood and practically begs her to come and work for him. She calmly explains that while the money he is offering is attractive, her post will last only two or three years and doesn’t offer the sort of long-term security she is looking for. Cal is about to leave – when he has a lightbulb moment. Miss Westwood wants security? She can have it as his countess; after all, he has to marry some time, and he’s already acknowledged to himself that he is strongly attracted to the lady so he could do much worse. He proposes a marriage of convenience and – upon consideration – is accepted. But a marriage between two virtual strangers is never going to be easy to navigate, especially when Cal seems to want to carry on as though nothing has changed.
I love a good marriage of convenience story, and this is a very good one indeed. Ms. Gracie takes time to set up her characters and the situation so we are afforded ample time to get to know Cal and to see that under his rather brusque, authoritarian exterior is a good-hearted man capable of great kindness who wants to do the best for those in his care. Having been in the army since he was seventeen, he’s used to making quick decisions and having his instructions and orders followed, and after a decade, such habits are hard to break. He has to learn to be more flexible, to empathise and persuade rather than order and insist, and I loved the part when he – much to her surprise – adopts one of Emm’s strategies:
“I don’t know many men – no, make that any men – who would seek advice from a woman.”
He shrugged. “Ten years in the army teaches a man to take advantage of local, expert knowledge, no matter what the source.”
It’s a telling exchange, showing clearly that Cal is adaptable and that he in no way sees Emm as beneath him or inferior. He respects her intelligence, her skills, and her spirit, gradually coming to realise what an asset she is, and what a good thing he did by marrying her. Of course, in the initial stages, all the convenience of the marriage is convenience for him, but as he and Emm get to spend more time with each other, talking and telling each other things they’ve told no-one else, they become friends, adding a deeper element to their relationship which has, up to this point, been mostly based on an intense physical attraction. The chemistry between them is terrific; there’s an element of slowly simmering sexual tension from their first meeting that ultimately leads to some sensually charged love scenes.
One of the things I really appreciated about the whole book is its aura of maturity. Emm is keeping an old secret from Cal, but it’s dealt with quickly and sensibly without being turned into some big, overblown drama, which is incredibly refreshing in a genre that so frequently uses secrets and lies as plot points. Cal and Emm actually talk to each other about important things, and their actions are generally properly thought-out and rational. There’s no stupid running away or arguments based on flimsy plot-points; no, this is a look at a marriage which needs to be worked at and in which, if something isn’t right, the couple realises the need to face it and deal with it. Ms. Gracie also does a superb job in showing the way in which Cal’s family grows and develops around him, mostly thanks to his wife, but thanks to him, too, as he grows and develops with them, coming to see that he can’t continue with his life as it was before.
There’s a lot to love about Marry in Haste, not least of which is Cal, who is a truly wonderful hero. He’s handsome, charming and sexy (of course!), but the way he turns from a man who wants nothing more than to escape to one who not only accepts but comes to enjoy his responsibilities, is skilfully done and a real delight to read. And Emm is his perfect match in every way; insightful and compassionate, she helps Cal and the girls to become a real family, stands firm in the face of his formidable Aunt Augusta and, in the end, finds it completely impossible not to tumble head over heels in love with her husband.
The final section of the book – in which Emm also comes to see how loved she is in return – is nicely done, although a couple of last minute events are perhaps a little over-the-top (and account for the A- instead of a straight A). But those are minor niggles. Marry in Haste is a gorgeously romantic read and one I’m only too pleased to recommend.