“I have a proposal for you…”
The last place respectable governess Ianthe Holt ever expected to be proposed to was in a train carriage…by a stranger…who had just accused her of trying to trap another man into marriage!
Shipping magnate Robert Felstone may be dashing, but he’s also insufferable, impertinent–and Ianthe’s only possible savior from her uncertain fate. She’s hesitant to play the perfect Felstone wife, but Robert soon shows Ianthe there’s more to him than meets the eye, and more to marriage than vows…
The Convenient Felstone Marriage is Jenni Fletcher’s second historical romance for Harlequin, and is set in and around the port of Whitby in Yorkshire in the mid-Victorian era. It’s a nice change to read an historical romance set outside London, and the fact that the plot centres on a marriage of convenience drew me like catnip – but while I liked the premise, the story falls short in the execution. The pacing flags in the middle, the ending is over-dramatic and the heroine, whom I’d liked to start with, began to get on my nerves in the latter part of the book, her motivations and thought-processes becoming an overly convenient – and rather flimsy – way of dragging things out and attempting to inject some tension into the story.
Miss Ianthe Holt is furious with her younger brother, Percy, for attempting to engineer a match between her and Sir Charles Lester, a man some thirty years her senior. When the train carrying them to Yorkshire on a visit to their aunt makes a short stop, Percy takes the opportunity to jump down to walk along the platform, leaving his sister fuming – and embarrassed when she realises that the man who had been asleep in the corner of their compartment must have heard every word of their argument. Ianthe’s wrath spills over and she accuses the man of deliberately eavesdropping; he retorts sharply and accuses her of being a scheming harpy, willing to marry an older man for his money and then hoping for a fast widowhood.
Robert Felstone is travelling home to Whitby following a stinging rejection by the young woman to whom he has just proposed. Robert is the bastard son of a lord with a penchant for seducing his housemaids, but due to his own hard work and aptitude for business, has made something of himself and is now a wealthy and successful shipping magnate. He owns one large shipbuilding firm and is looking to buy out one of his oldest competitors – but all he has achieved wasn’t enough for the society beauty to whom he’d proposed and she laughed in his face, making it clear that he had aspirations above his station. He is still smarting from her rejection when he overhears the argument in his train carriage, and deciding discretion is the better part of valour, pretends to remain asleep rather than acknowledge he’s overheard everything. But the young woman’s challenge and attitude strike a raw nerve, and he can’t help blurting out exactly what he thinks of her. Fortunately, however, he soon realises how disgraceful it is of him to make such an assumption and apologises, at the same time realising that perhaps he has just been presented with an answer to one of his problems. In order to expand his business by purchasing the shipyard belonging to the old-fashioned Mr. Harper, Robert needs to be respectably married as the old man won’t consider selling to anyone other than a family man. The young woman in front of him is faced with the prospect of being forced into marriage, but if she were to agree to marry Robert instead… it’s a solution to both their present difficulties.
Ianthe is incredulous at being proposed to just moments after being berated and turns Robert down flat. She will simply refuse Sir Charles when he asks for her hand – but when it becomes clear that that gentleman is not going to take no for an answer, she is so scared that she decides to accept Robert, believing marriage to another man will prompt Sir Charles to leave her alone.
This is not, perhaps, the best basis for a marriage, but that’s often the case with this particular trope. Ms. Fletcher does a good job of showing how frightened Ianthe is, and of making a point about how little control women had over their lives at this time; and Ianthe’s reaction – accepting Robert because she’s panicked and later, her reluctance to venture outside – makes sense.
Robert knows there is something Ianthe is not telling him when she accepts him, but he doesn’t push her to talk about it; theirs is going to be a business transaction and in any case, all he wants is to present his very respectable wife to Harper to seal the deal on the shipyard. Or is it? He can’t deny that he finds Ianthe attractive and likes her occasional show of spirit – although he also senses that there’s a different woman hiding behind the poorly dressed, somewhat prim façade she normally presents to the world.
And he’s right – she is hiding something besides the fact that Sir Charles frightened the life out of her. Back when she worked as a governess, Ianthe believed herself in love with the son of the household and was persuaded to elope with him. They were intercepted before anything irreversible happened between them, but the young man’s family basically blamed Ianthe for leading their son astray and called her all sorts of vicious names. Ever since then, she has tried her best to fade into the background, deliberately adopting a severe hairstyle and dressing in dowdy, unflattering clothes. She has also become preoccupied with being respectable – and that preoccupation turns into an obsession as soon as she marries Robert, because she knows he wants an irreproachably respectable wife in order to close the shipyard deal. She didn’t tell him about the abortive elopement to start with because she was scared of being forced to marry Sir Charles, and after she and Robert are married, she doesn’t tell him for fear he will realise how far she is from the respectable wife he needs and set her aside. Her continual harping upon respectability gets very irritating very quickly and turns into the worst kind of Big Misunderstanding because of her tunnel vision.
Robert is an engaging hero and I particularly liked the fact that he’s a member of the local lifeboat crew. The scenes late on in the book in which the crew is called out are very well done and provide some of the most interesting material in the story – but their impact is lessened by the inclusion of cliché after cliché in the final couple of chapters leading to a very rushed ending.
Ms. Fletcher’s style is engaging and very readable, and I liked parts of The Convenient Felstone Marriage enough to want to try more of her work; but I had completely lost patience with the heroine well before the end and can’t really recommend this particular example of it.