‘I have just announced our betrothal’
Now there’s no going back…
In this Brides for Bachelors story, the Marquess of Rawcliffe has always found his childhood friend Clare Cottam enthralling, but any relationship has been forbidden by her strict father. Now the couple are embroiled in a heated argument that puts Clare’s reputation in danger, and Rawcliffe is forced to declare her his fiancée. It will be his pleasure to tame his independent, innocent bride…
The Marquess Tames His Bride is the second book in Annie Burrows’ Brides for Bachelors series, which, although the romance is self-contained, picks up the storyline about a number of jewel thefts that began in book one, The Major Meets His Match. I have read that book, although I confess I couldn’t remember very much about the continuing plotline; but fortunately the author has given enough of a recap for new readers to be able to pick it up and work out what is going on. That said, it’s not an especially exciting mystery and there’s not much progression here; I’d worked out where things were headed within the first few pages, and at the end, it’s conveniently left hanging for the hero of book three to pick up and bring to a close.
Clare Cottam has spent the best part of her life caring for her drunkard of a father – a vicar – and her obnoxious older brothers. The recent death of the Reverend Cottam has left Clare homeless and penniless, but one of her brothers, Clement – who is also a clergyman – has arranged for her to take up a position as companion to an elderly lady who lives in Dorset. It’s not what Clare would have wished for herself, but she tries to see her brother’s interference as a kindness – and anyway she has no alternative. She has stopped briefly at an inn along the way when she hears the well-remembered, mocking voice of the Marquess of Rawcliffe demanding to know why she’s there. Clare has known Rawcliffe since she was a girl, and he’s always taken great delight in laughing at her and needling her until she loses the temper that is her greatest trial. He’s the last person to whom she is going to confess the truth of her situation, but when he persists in teasing her, Clare has had enough and punches him on the nose.
There is immediately talk of sending for the authorities – she has struck a peer of the realm, after all – but Rawcliffe quickly smooths things over by kissing her in full view of everyone present, telling them that Clare is his betrothed and that they have had a lover’s tiff. Rawcliffe then takes her into a private room where he proceeds to care for the hand she’s hurt by striking him and tells her that they will be married as soon as possible. Clare dismisses the idea at once, but Rawcliffe insists; at least one of the inn’s patrons is someone he knows, so word of his engagement is probably already winging its way to the London gossips. Clare’s reputation will be in tatters if she refuses.
Rawcliffe has been in love with Clare for ages, and actually proposed to her some years earlier, but she believed he was mocking her and laughed it off as a joke. After that, he determined to harden his heart and never let her humiliate him again, throwing himself into a life filled with hedonistic pursuits, taking care to remain aloof, and sometimes even being unkind to her whenever they met. But now, her ill-advised fit of temper opens the way for him to get what he’s always wanted – Clare herself, in his life and in his bed.
Rawcliffe overrides all Clare’s objections to their marriage – she’s not of his station, she’s not beautiful or accomplished, she’s not fit to be the wife of a marquess – but eventually she recognises he’s not going to take ‘no’ for an answer and consents. After all, life as Rawcliffe’s marchinoness will be far preferable to one as a drudge to a string of elderly ladies – but even though she’s loved him for years and his kisses melt her knees and her brain, Clare isn’t sure they can make each other happy.
The couple journeys to London, to the home of Lady Harriet Inskip (heroine of the previous book) who is due to marry one of Rawcliffe’s closest friends, Jack, Viscount Becconsall, in a few days. However, Rawcliffe is greeted with bad news: another of his friends, Thomas Kellett, has been found dead – drowned – off the Dorset coast not long after leaving London to visit his godmother and see what he could discover about the jewel thefts.
Rawcliffe is devastated at the news, sure his friend’s death was no accident and that he died at the hand of whoever is behind the thefts. He already has a pretty good idea who that is, and realises now that marrying Clare will give him the perfect opportunity to further his investigation into the activities of Clement Cottam. Rawcliffe has never liked the man – having long ago recognised him for the bully he is – but he fears that Clare might think that he married her purely to he can get close to her brother. So he does his best to keep her at arm’s length to avoid any awkward questions, putting physical distance between them and being coldly off-hand during the day – although at night, he finds himself unable to resist going to her bed and unable to remain there afterwards, his guilt at not being honest with her and his fear he will become too attached to her driving him away straight after they have made love. And for her part, Clare is completely thrown off balance by this man who is all consideration one moment and the epitome of icy disdain the next; and who makes love to her with such passion and then coolly and calmly leaves her afterward.
Rawcliffe spends most of the book being pretty unpleasant to Clare, and while I can understand his reasons, his poor behaviour goes on for too long. Clare, on the other hand, is determined to defer to her husband and be the sort of demure wife he seems to want, even if her temper sometimes gets the better of her. The thing that saves the book from a lower grade is the way in which Clare, when finally confronted with the truth, is neither blindly loyal nor weepily betrayed – she has a brain and she uses it to make up her own mind, piecing together a full and correct picture of events… and the fact that Rawcliffe has just about redeemed himself by the end.
This has been a difficult review to write, as is often the case with those ‘middling’ books which are neither good nor bad and about which one has found little that is particularly memorable. As is obvious, I was disappointed in The Marquess Tames His Bride; the humour I’d enjoyed in the previous book is lacking, I couldn’t warm to the hero, found the heroine somewhat insipid and the overarching plotline weak.