The obvious solution:
A marriage of convenience!
Temperance Lattimar is too scandalous for a Season, until finally she’s sponsored by Lady Sayleford. The whole charade feels wrong when she doesn’t want a husband, but Temper feels awful when MP and aristocrat Gifford Newell is appointed to “protect” her at society events. With her past, she knows she’s not an ideal wife…but then a marriage of convenience to Giff becomes the only option!
The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife is the second in Julia Justiss’ duology about the Lattimar sisters, twins Prudence and Temperance, who have been dubbed the Sisters of Scandal not because they’ve ever done anything scandalous, but because of their mother’s notoriety. It’s the companion novel to A Most Unsuitable Match, which saw Prudence finding her happy ever after; now it’s the turn of Temperance (and I have to say here that I really didn’t care for her shortened name of Temper), whose ambitions run towards travel and adventure – and most definitely not towards marriage.
Temper’s determination not to marry is one she’s long held, so in some ways, her mother’s tarnished reputation may work in her favour, as it means Temper will not be received in the best society or attract any respectable suitors, which is fine by her. What she truly wants to do is to persuade her father to release the funds set aside for her dowry so that she can travel the world – and perhaps collect precious artefacts on his behalf. Lord Vraux is a distant, unemotional man who barely acknowledges his daughters’ existence; and secretly Temper is not especially surprised that his disinterest drove their mother into the arms of other men. His passion is his collections and it’s that that Temper hopes to use in order to obtain her funds. Sadly, however, he will hear nothing of it, and instead insists that Temper makes her début and has a season. He wants her to find a husband and doesn’t seem to take into account the difficulty presented by her lack of reputation; so Temper decides she’ll do what he asks and have her season, fully intending to make sure she ends the season unwed.
The most recent scandal involving her mother – which was actually none of her making – is fresh in the minds of society, but Temper is determined to go her own way and make her début in London rather than in Bath, as Prudence is going to do. When her brothers express their concern, their friend, Gifford Newell – whom Temper has known forever – says he will speak to his godmother Lady Sayleford, one of the doyennes of society – to see if she will sponsor Temper. Lady Sayleford is a force to be reckoned with, and although her countenance will not whitewash Temper’s name in society, it will at least ease her way a little. Temper agrees… but hadn’t accounted for the fact that Lady Sayleford would pull Giff into the mix by insisting that he be present at events Temper attends in order to scare off the disreputable men who will do doubt flock to her a beautiful, well-dowered young woman whose mother’s reputation for being ‘fast’ means she’s viewed as loose-moraled and easy prey.
Giff is an upcoming, hard-working MP who is part of the group known as Hadley’s Hellions (who featured in the author’s recent series of books of the same name). He’s the second son of an earl whose parents have never had time for him, instead lavishing all their affection and attention on the heir, his brother Robert, so he’s made his own way in life and is content with his lot. For the most part. He’s known Temper for years, but recently has begun to see her as different eyes; no longer is she the annoying younger sister of his closest friends, but a lovely, desirable young woman he has no business thinking about in that way. The trouble is that he senses that his attraction to her isn’t one-sided, and that she is fighting her feelings for him every bit as hard as he is fighting his for her. But to think of anything other than friendship is impossible. Not only does Temper never intend to marry, when Giff takes a wife, he needs to marry someone who will make a good political wife and hostess, someone who can help and support him in his work – not someone like Temper, who has always been headstrong and impulsive.
The friends-to-lovers trope is a particular favourite, so I had expectations going in that this would be a story I’d enjoy – and it was. Temperance and Giff are likeable, intelligent and sincere characters and I appreciated that they both took each other’s aims and ambitions seriously – especially Giff, who never dismissed Temper’s desire to travel and went out of his way to provide opportunities for her to further her interest and discuss far-flung places and cultures with those who had experienced them.
As always with this author, her story and characters remain very much in and of their period. Temper may have ambitions different from those of many well-bred young women, and may be more forthright than most, but she’s never TSTL or prancing around asking us to look at how unconventional she is. Given Giff’s position as an MP, there are interesting snippets about the politicial situation of the time, and I particularly liked the subtle way Ms. Justiss incorporates some pertinent observations about marriage at the time, mostly through her depiction of the sad union between Lord and Lady Vraux (and her portrayal of Temper’s mother, a woman who has suffered for behaviour that wouldn’t have rated the merest batt of an eyelash had she been a man) – and of the way society has received the news that upcoming marriage of a widowed viscount – father of Ben Tawny from Convenient Proposal to the Lady – to the woman he has always loved but could not marry before (Ben’s mother).
It’s not a spoiler to say that Temper and Giff end up married – thanks to the machinations of a spoiled society miss who manoeuvres them into a compromising situation – or that Giff’s personal situation undergoes a material change (it’s obvious from the book’s title). Both these events mean that the plans he and Temper had held to so hard are going to have to undergo drastic changes, but fortunately, the strong friendship that has always existed between them enables them to face them together and grow closer as they do so. I really liked the way they worked as a couple; they communicate well and even though Temper is quite young (she’s only twenty, I think) she and Giff handle their altered prospects with maturity, with Temper displaying a strength of character and competence that Giff had perhaps not previously suspected she possessed. Ms. Justiss writes their relationship and romance really well, establishing a deep friendship between them but also adding those touches of longing and attraction which grow as the story progresses.
The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife is a well-developed, well-written romance with likeable characters and a strong sense of time and place that I’m sure all fans of historical romance will enjoy.