A Momentary Marriage by Candace Camp

This title may be purchased at Amazon

James de Vere has always insisted on being perfectly pragmatic and rational in all things. It seemed the only way to deal with his overdramatic, greedy family. When he falls ill and no doctor in London can diagnose him, he returns home to Grace Hill in search of a physician who can–or to set his affairs in order.

Arriving at the doctor’s home, he’s surprised to encounter the doctor’s daughter Laura, a young woman he last saw when he was warning her off an attachment with his cousin Graeme. Alas, the doctor is recently deceased and Laura is closing up the estate, which must be sold off, leaving her penniless. At this, James has an inspiration: why not marry the damsel in distress? If his last hope for a cure is gone, at least he’ll have some companionship in his final days, and she’ll inherit his fortune instead of his grasping relatives, leaving her a wealthy widow with plenty of prospects.

Laura is far from swept off her feet, but she’s as pragmatic as James, so she accepts his unusual proposal. But as the two of them brave the onslaught of shocked and suspicious family members, they find themselves growing closer.

Rating: B+

A Momentary Marriage is the sequel to Candace Camp’s A Perfect Gentleman, which is where we were introduced to Sir James de Vere and Miss Laura Hinsdale as secondary characters with no love lost between them.  The prospect of a marriage of convenience between these two antagonists was an enticing one, and the idea of the coolly collected James being brought low by a strange illness lent an added piquancy to its appeal.  Like its predecessor, the novel has a mystery woven through the principal romantic storyline, and while I can’t deny I’m reaching the stage when I’m starting to get just a bit tired of the tacked-on mystery that seems to have become almost de rigueur in historical romances, this one is integral to the story and doesn’t overshadow the development of the central relationship.

James, his cousin Graeme (hero of A Perfect Gentleman) and Laura have known each other since childhood, and, as teenagers, Laura and Graeme fell in love.  But Graeme was the heir to an impoverished earldom and needed to marry an heiress; Laura was the daughter of a country doctor, and a match between them was impossible.  It was James who, eleven years before, had gone to Laura and told her that she needed to let Graeme go so he could move on and do what needed to be done; and Laura, while heart-broken and not particularly well-disposed towards James, knew what he said was true and broke things off with the man she loved.

James de Vere is handsome, wealthy, charming and enigmatic; he’s witty and insightful, but reveals little of himself and is the sort of man who buries his emotions deep and needs to maintain control.  He has no great love for his immediate family and bears ties of affection to nobody except his cousin and his mastiff, Demosthenes – Dem – who is his constant companion.  But for some months now, he has been suffering from a mystery illness which is gradually getting worse, and none of the doctors he has seen can identify it or decide upon a treatment.  The diagnoses run from a bad heart to brain fever to tumors, but the one thing the medical men do agree on is that James hasn’t long left to live.

He is preparing to leave London to spend the time left to him at his estate in the country when Graeme persuades him to seek advice from Doctor Hinsdale.  James isn’t hopeful, but promises to do as his cousin asks, even though he’s tired and in pain and could do without making the detour to Canterbury.  Unfortunately, however, he arrives to discover that the doctor died two weeks earlier and that Laura has been left in straitened circumstances.  Knowing her to be a sensible, practical sort of woman, he makes a surprising suggestion that he believes will benefit them both.

James is the last person Laura expects to see, and the last man from whom she’d ever have thought to receive a proposal of marriage.  At first she isn’t sure he’s serious, but as he calmly points out, if she marries him, she’ll be a widow before long and he will make sure she is well provided for so she need never worry about debts or where her next meal is coming from.  He also tells her that he doesn’t want to leave everything he has to his grasping family; and that by marrying her, perhaps he is trying to atone for his past sins.  And, in a moment of blunt, heartbreaking honesty:

“Or maybe I just don’t want to face the end alone.”

Being James, however, he has to ruin the moment by following that up with a sarcastic rejoinder, but Laura sees the vulnerability beneath the insouciance and accepts his proposal, determining to help him however she can.

When Laura meets James’ immediate family, she starts to understand why he isn’t keen on the idea of bequeathing them any more than he absolutely has to, and why he has asked her to serve as one of the trustees of the fund he has set up to provide for them after his death. Once home, James begins to weaken alarmingly, his strength depleted by a serious fever and worsening symptoms.  Laura feels helpless, unable to find anything in her father’s medical books or notes that gives her any hope that James might recover, but she does everything she can to make him comfortable and tries not to give in to the despair she feels at the fact that this young, vital man she would like the opportunity to know better is slipping away from her.  She keeps his family at bay and fights for him every way she can, but his condition continues to deteriorate – until she makes an unexpected discovery that puts a completely different complexion on things.

As this is a romance, I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that James doesn’t die; and I’ve already mentioned that there’s a mystery to be solved, which, of course, relates to his illness and what caused it.  It’s quite an ingenious move on the author’s part, as she manages to give James a truly life-threatening condition while making it one from which he can plausibly recover.   But once he is on the mend, he and Laura are presented with a completely different problem.  She’d married him believing she would soon become a widow, but now they’re tied to each other for life, and Laura is sure she’s not the sort of wife James would have chosen had the circumstances been different.  Yet the time they spent together during his illness has created an unexpected intimacy between them, and now, there’s no denying the fact that they’re attracted to each other and have been for some time.

The evolution of the central relationship as it moves from mutual wariness and uncertainty to respect, affection and – eventually – love, is very well done, with some deeply affecting and lump-in-throat moments along the way. The couple comes a long way from their old animosity and realises that they may have been guilty of a number of misjudgements in the past, and one of the things I liked the most about the story is that they are generally open and honest with one another. The fact that James – a man who doesn’t trust easily – instinctively knows that he can trust Laura with anything and everything, says a lot about the strength of their growing friendship, and I enjoyed their mutual teasing and that they could say more or less anything to each other.  James doesn’t allow people to get emotionally close, either, and I was rooting hard tor Laura to break though those barriers and force him to confront the truth of his feelings for her.

A Momentary Marriage is a strongly written marriage of convenience story featuring a pair of attractive protagonists with great chemistry and a nice line in witty dialogue.  The identity of the villain of the piece is not too obvious (although a small secondary cast helps narrow it down), and while some of the supporting characters are somewhat stereotypical – the bitter sister, the fortune-hunting admirer, the disaffected younger brother – they serve as a good contrast to Laura, whose concern for and support of James is genuine and selfless.

If, like me, you’re a fan of this particular trope, and are always on the lookout for good, new examples of it, then I’d say A Momentary Marriage will likely fit the bill.

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A Perfect Gentleman by Candace Camp

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Forced to marry an American heiress to save his family, Graeme Parr, Earl of Montclair, vowed their marriage would be in name only. Abigail Price thought handsome, aristocratic Graeme was her knight in shining armor, rescuing her from her overbearing father. But when she was spurned by her husband on their wedding night, Abigail fled home to New York.

Now, years later, Abigail has returned. But this sophisticated, alluring woman is not the drab girl Graeme remembers. Appalled by her bold American ways but drawn to her beauty, Graeme follows her on a merry chase through London’s elegant ballrooms to its dockside taverns—why is his wife back? What could she want of him now?

Torn between desire and suspicion, Graeme fears that Abby, like her unprincipled father, has a devious plan to ruin him. But is Abigail’s true desire Graeme’s destruction…or winning his love at last?

Rating: B+

A Perfect Gentleman combines two of my favourite tropes – an arranged marriage and a second-chance romance – so I had fairly high expectations of the book from the outset, and I’m pleased to report that, apart from a niggle about the secondary plotline, those expectations were met.

The novel opens with a prologue set ten years before the bulk of the story, just before the wedding night of Graeme and Abigail Parr, whose marriage has been arranged by their respective fathers, the Earl of Montclair and American industrialist, Thurston Price. Abigail knows her new husband doesn’t love her and that he has married her in order to gain sufficient funds to be able to save the family estate, but Graeme’s behaviour has always been courteous and gentlemanly towards her, and she hopes that in time, affection – perhaps even love – will grow between them. What she doesn’t know, however, is that Price has taken underhand steps to make sure his prospective son-in-law could not back out of the agreement, threatening to reveal damaging information about his father if he tried to wriggle off the hook. Backed into a corner and further angered by a thoughtless comment made by his new father-in-law, Graeme finally snaps, and, believing Abigail to be complicit in her father’s plots, accuses her of blackmail, informs her that he’s in love with someone else and walks out of their hotel room in a furious rage.

Devastated, Abigail packs up her things and heads back to New York, where she remains for the next ten years.

Even though he later regretted his outburst at his young bride, Graeme was not particularly disturbed by her high-tailing it back to America, even though he’s never completely understood why. He continues to support her financially, but is quite happy to live a kind of bachelor existence, although, of course, he cannot marry the woman he loves or sire an heir, meaning that his title – he has become Earl of Montclair in the intervening years – will pass out of the direct line. The last thing he expects to hear, then, is that his wife is in London and causing quite a stir; not only because of her return after such a long absence, but because she is much sought after and surrounded by attentive gentlemen wherever she goes. This doesn’t fit with Graeme’s remembrance of his bride as rather a mousy young woman, but when first he sees her again, he is forced to acknowledge that the intervening years have seen her transform into a vibrant beauty who captivates all around her. But he’s not especially pleased to see her, and is suspicious of her motives for coming to England after so many years of separation. Their initial meeting, at a ball, is cordial, but Abigail is not forthcoming as to the reasons for her presence until some days later, when she tells Graeme that she wants a baby. He refuses, horrified at the thought of sharing a child with a woman he still dislikes – although he admits to himself that he’s not exactly averse to taking part in the act that would create that child – until Abigail then asks him for a divorce so that she can remarry. Graeme is equally horrified at this prospect; he has striven to do the right thing and act in a gentlemanly manner all his life, and has no wish to incur the scandal that would follow a divorce. He and Abigail reach an agreement; they will live as man and wife until she conceives, and any child she has will be brought up in England.

To say the couple is enthusiastic about the act of procreation is an understatement; the crackling awareness of each other that has been evident since their first meeting after Abigail’s return ignites in the bedroom – and other places – leading to some nicely sensual scenes between them, while they are also coming to a greater understanding of each other and what has led them to this point. Ten years on, this is a couple that is wiser as well as older, and the fact that they actually talk things out is very refreshing in a genre in which misunderstandings and lack of communication are so often used as plot devices. Both Graeme and Abigail have to acknowledge and come to terms with past errors as they learn the truth about what prompted their marriage and separation; and this part of the story, where we get to watch them slowly fall in love is beautifully done.

The secondary plotline, which is a mystery in which it becomes gradually apparent that someone is out to harm Abigail, is less successful, however. The storyline itself is intriguing – concerning the secret Thurston Price had threatened to reveal about the late Earl – but the execution is somewhat clumsy, and while I didn’t guess as to the identity of the culprit until near the end, it was because that person was such an unlikely choice and the motive rather flimsy rather than any clever red herrings on the part of the author.

But don’t let that put you off; the mystery is most definitely a background element to the developing love story, which is front and centre throughout. Graeme and Abigail are attractive and engaging characters, and their romance has a definite ring of maturity about it, which I really appreciated. I came away from A Perfect Gentleman feeling optimistic about their future – and very much looking forward to Ms. Camp’s next book, which will feature Graeme’s somewhat enigmatic cousin, James de Vere.

The Marrying Season by Candace Camp

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Genevieve Stafford, the younger sister of the Earl of Rawdon (A Summer Seduction), is an icy but beautiful aristocrat. Determined to make the sort of marital alliance expected of a woman of her station, she becomes engaged to the scion of another noble family. However, when Genevieve finds herself entangled in scandal, her fiancé breaks things off. Shamed, she has no recourse but to retreat to the family estate…until her brother’s friend, Sir Myles Thorwood, offers to marry Genevieve and salvage her reputation.

Genevieve expects to have a loveless marriage of convenience, but the handsome, charming Myles has other things in mind. As the two of them work to discover who engineered the scandal that could have ruined Genevieve’s life, Myles shows Genevieve just what it means to be man and wife. Genevieve finds it difficult to resist the passion Myles evokes in her, but can she risk losing her heart to a man she thinks sees their union as only a duty?

Rating: C

Genevieve Stafford has a reputation as an ice queen. Her behaviour and reputation are impeccable and she has been tutored by her formidable grandmother into being everything a proper young lady of good breeding should be. She has had plenty of admirers, but none of them have incited her interest and Genevieve herself has come to believe that she is cold and not made for love.

At her brother’s wedding (I believe his story was told in the previous book in the series), she is told the story of the Legend of St. Dwynwen, and how a maiden who prays at her shrine will soon find love. Genevieve scoffs – but, beginning to worry about the prospect of having to spend the rest of her life without a husband, sneaks off to the shrine and – hey presto! – her prayers are answered and she becomes betrothed to the handsome (albeit rather stuffy) Lord Dursford.

The action skips forward several months to another ball, but this one has disastrous consequences for Genevieve when she is all-but assaulted by a drunken guest; but this being the 1800s, it’s Genevieve who is judged to be at fault and her reputation is left in tatters. There’s only one course of action which will help to re-establish her in the eyes of society; she must be married, and quickly. Of course, the drunkard who groped her is not a suitable husband for her, but Sir Myles Thorwood, a long-time friend of her family, steps in and offers her his hand. Genevieve is most reluctant to accept, knowing he’s offering for her only out of duty and concern, but is quickly brought to see that she has no other option than to marry him.

Genevieve and Myles have known each other all their lives, and are friends – even though they are constantly bickering and sniping at each other. But it’s all good-natured for the most part, and for me, the couple who bickers together is the one that usually stays together, and I always enjoy a spot of light-hearted banter.

The first half of the book is really quite appealing. It wouldn’t win any prizes for originality, but Myles – in particular – is a very attractive character, and he sets out to woo his wife with a mixture of humour, attentiveness and charm. Genevieve is delighted to discover that her grandmother’s warning about the pain involved in marital duties was complete tosh, and is beginning to discover that she is not so much of an ice-maiden as she had feared.

But at around the half-way mark, the story suddenly veered off track, and what had begun as a charming friends-to-lovers/compromised-into-marriage romance (incidentally, two of my favourite tropes in the genre) turned into a mess of misunderstandings and a sometimes unpleasant battle of wills.

It all starts when Myles discovers that the reason Genevieve had been alone in the library on the night of the ball during which she was compromised was because she had received a note – purportedly from him – to meet him there. Myles’ reaction to the fact that she hadn’t mentioned it (why would she, if she thought he knew because he’d sent the note?) is completely over the top as he accuses her of thinking that he would be so careless with her reputation as to arrange a secret assignation. From then on, the temperature between them very quickly drops to below zero. In a fit of anger about the fact that Genevieve establishes a separate bedroom for herself in their townhouse – it isn’t the done thing for husbands and wives of the ton to share a bed, and Genevieve was always a stickler for propriety – Myles says some nasty things, accuses her of being cold, and storms off.

Genevieve is horrified, and starts to retreat into her shell of impeccable propriety in an attempt to stop herself from being hurt; she reminds herself that Myles only married her to save her reputation and thinks he doesn’t care for her.

Added into this is the fact that Genevieve continues to be the subject of scandal-sheet gossip. Someone is intent on ruining her reputation – but who? Myles and Genevieve’s brother Alec set out to find who it is – at which point Genevieve bawls them out for not letting her tag along and making decisions for her. I found that her attitude stretched my credibility a bit too far. On the one hand, she’s concerned about what is and isn’t done, but on the other, wants to go chasing off into the less salubrious parts of London on a man-hunt. Some of Genevieve’s other actions – like chasing a maid through the streets – don’t fit with her character as it’s been established. She also has this idea that Myles is insisting she “submit” to him by “giving up” her sense of self as Genevieve Stafford – but I have no idea why she should be thinking that. Myles is a pretty easy-going chap who just wants his wife to be a wife, and while he said some hurtful things in the heat of anger for which he tries repeatedly to apologise, Genevieve has thrown up her barriers and won’t let him in.

The dénouement, when it comes, happens pretty quickly, when the identity of the person who has been providing the scandal-sheet with gossip is identified (although it’s been fairly obvious who it is for some time), and with Myles and Genevieve declaring their love for each other on practically the last page.

Overall, I get the impression that there wasn’t enough material in The Marrying Season to sustain a full-length novel. The first half, as I’ve said, was charming, and had it been a novella that concentrated on the coming together of these two friends and turning them into lovers, it could have been quite a satisfying read. But the second half felt like so much padding.

The characterisation of the heroine was probably the strongest of all the characters. Most of the story is seen from her point-of-view, so the reader is able to discover that she is actually quite insecure and uses her icy exterior to protect herself from hurt. Myles is less well-developed, however. He’s pleasant enough – handsome, charming and everything you’d expect in a romantic hero, but as so little of the story is seen through his eyes, it’s harder to get inside his head. As a result, he comes across as little more than a congenial man who is miffed because his wife won’t sleep with him!

All in all, this isn’t a book I’d probably read again, although it was pleasant enough in parts to pass the time.