The Secret Marriage Pact (The Business of Marriage #3) by Georgie Lee

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An improper proposal!

Jane Rathbone is used to being left behind, and no longer believes she deserves happiness. But when childhood friend Jasper Charton returns from the Americas, more dangerously sexy than ever, she has a proposition. She’ll give him the property he needs if he’ll give her a new future–by marrying her!

Jasper never imagined taking a wife, but wonders if loyal Jane could be his redemption. And when their marriage brings tantalizing pleasures, convenient vows blossom into a connection that could heal them both…

Rating: B

Georgie Lee continues her Business of Marriage series with The Secret Marriage Pact, a friends-to-lovers story which reunites two childhood friends after almost a decade apart.  Jane Rathbone and Jasper Charton were almost inseparable as children, but the nine years Jasper has spent in America have changed him and he has returned home a troubled man, weighed down by guilt he is unable to shake off and secrets he is unable to share.

We first met Jane as a teenager in A Debt Paid in Marriage and now, almost a decade later, she’s a shrewd, intelligent young woman of twenty-three with an eye for a bargain and almost as good a head for business as her brother, Phillip.  Unfortunately, however, she has recently become the subject of ridicule because her fiancé – Jasper’s brother, Milton – eloped with another woman just two weeks before he and Jane were due to be married.  While Jane isn’t exactly heartbroken – she wasn’t in love with Milton, but she’d liked the idea of having a husband who was a friend – she’s furious about being made a laughing-stock. This leads her to bid against him at a property auction and to buy the Fleet Street building he had been bidding for – but her satisfaction at beating him is short lived when she learns he had actually been acting for Jasper, recently returned from America and who wanted the property in order to start a business.

Jane is thrilled but also wary of meeting Jasper again after all these years.  As children, she and the Charton brothers were extremely close, forever running around together causing mayhem and creating mischief, but things changed when, at fifteen, Jasper was told he would be going to Savannah to learn the cotton business from his maternal uncle.  Jane had already realised she felt more than friendship for Jasper and told him before he left that she would wait for him, but he didn’t think he’d ever return and rebuffed her.

Now, however, Jane is determined not to accept rebuffs or excuses and instead conceives a plan which could help both of them.  Jasper wants the building she purchased and she wants freedom from the restrictions she has to endure as a single woman.  Getting married would mean they could both get what they want while working together to establish Jasper’s business venture.

Their old connection is as strong as ever – although now, it comes with the added piquancy of mutual sexual attraction – but Jasper is astonished at Jane’s proposal and equally surprised to find himself tempted by it.  Even though he told her not to wait for him when he left, he has never forgotten her and continues to harbour feelings for her that go beyond friendship.  But the things he has seen and done in the last nine years have profoundly affected him, and the last thing he wants to do is to weigh her down with his secrets and corrupt her the same way the life he’s led has corrupted him.

Yet he starts to think that Jane might be the one person who can stop him from ending up like his uncle; dissipated, lonely and disillusioned.  He decides to take a risk and tell her the truth about the past nine years – well, about some of it – and her understanding and compassion, the fact that she doesn’t recoil or reject him bring him to the realisation that she’s worth fighting his doubts and demons for, and that if he’s careful, he can have her while also holding back the truth of the worst of his past misdeeds.

We learn fairly early on that while Jasper’s parents believed he was going to learn to run a cotton plantation in Savannah, his uncle’s business was nothing of the sort, and he was in fact making his money as the owner of a highly successful gambling business.  At first, Jasper found it all exhilarating and was eager to learn, but as the time wore on and he saw how ruthless his uncle could be, his lack of concern for the desperation of men wagering everything and his disinclination to stop them, Jasper’s distaste for what he was doing began to grow and he became disgusted with himself for being a part of it.  But it’s all he knows, and he returns to England with only one way to make enough money to be able to start a legitimate business.  Knowing how upset and disappointed his parents would be if they had the faintest inkling of what he is doing, Jasper has to keep the truth of his time in America from them as well as stop them from finding out that he is currently running a gambling hell in a shady area of London.  Living a double life takes a heavy toll on Jasper both mentally and physically – so it’s not hard to understand why he would see Jane as a lifeline.  Before agreeing to the marriage, Jasper comes (mostly) clean with Jane about the nature of his business and makes it very clear that if she does marry him, she’ll have to become part of his deception and will have to lie to friends and family so as to keep his secrets until such time as he can free himself of them.

I really appreciated the fact that Jasper is pretty upfront with Jane right from the start and that, for the most part, they communicate well. But he clings to the belief that he can compartmentalise and continue to keep some secrets from Jane while simultaneously allowing her to be his partner in both his business and his life… which points the way toward the marital discord that occurs later in the book.  Jasper’s intense weariness and his desire to keep Jane firmly away from the part of him he hates lead to her feeling shut out, and her own insecurities – she has abandonment anxiety owing to her belief that she was responsible for the deaths of her parents  – naturally magnify her concerns.

The conflict created by Jasper’s persistence in trying to keep things from Jane works well as a way of ramping up the tension between the couple later in the book; and while not all of his reasoning is sound, the desire at the root of his decisions – to protect those closest to him – is admirable.  But I didn’t like that the author felt it necessary to give Jane a matching past tragedy; it felt completely unnecessary given that Jasper was already carrying enough guilt and self-loathing for two.  There’s also too much dwelling – by both characters – on their shame and unworthiness; Ms. Lee establishes these things very well, but then continues to hammer them home so that, by the time I was into the second half of the book, I was getting a little tired of the wallowing.

On the whole, though, The Secret Marriage Pact is a strongly written and enjoyable read that should appeal to anyone looking for an historical romance in which the characters work for a living and are not part of high society.  The principals are likeable and easy to root for, and Ms. Lee quickly establishes a strong emotional connection between them as well as creating a pleasantly simmering sexual tension which they get to explore in a few well-written, steamy love scenes.  I could have done without some of the guilt-trips, but I enjoyed the book overall.

The Cinderella Governess (Governess Tales #1) by Georgie Lee

cinderella governess

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Once upon a time…

Joanna Radcliff has always dreamed of the day when she’d become a governess and finally be part of a proper family. Except, instead of a warm welcome, she’s given a frosty reception by her employers—and her charges! The only person who pays her any attention is the dashing Major Preston…

Despite their stolen conversations and tantalizing glances in the ballroom, Luke and Joanna know that their stations in life are just too different. But when this Cinderella governess’s life is transformed and their roles are reversed, will they risk everything to be together?

Rating: C

Georgie Lee’s The Cinderella Governess is the first book in a new series from Harlequin Historical which will feature stories written by four different authors. The heroines are a group of friends who have all been pupils at Madame DuBois’ school for young ladies in Salisbury, and are about to leave there to work as governesses. As this book opens, we learn that one of them – Rachel – is to travel to the Arabian kingdom of Huria to take up a position teaching the children of the Sheikh, one – Grace – has fallen into disgrace because of an ill-judged love affair and another – Joanna Radcliff – is to be a governess to Lord and Lady Huntford’s four girls.

Given the book’s title, it was fair to assume I was going to get a story about an impoverished young woman falling in love with a handsome, well-do-do man who would sweep her off her feet in the face of all opposition; and that’s pretty much what I got. But strange as it seems to say it, even allowing for the fairy-tale overtones and the fact that this is a path that has been trod many times before, The Cinderella Governess suffers from an overload of predictability and too many contrivances. I think the Fairy Godmother must have been working overtime.

Joanna Radcliff Is a foundling, left on the school’s doorstep when she was a baby, and more or less raised by Madame DuBois. Even though she has enjoyed her time at school and made good friends there, Joanna still feels that she must have somehow been lacking to have caused her mother to have left her in the care of strangers. Now nineteen, it is time for her to leave the school to make her own way in the world, but working for the Huntfords is nothing like what she expected. The eldest girl, who is soon to make her come-out, is a spoiled, spiteful madam who seems intent on ruining herself at the first available opportunity, and the two youngest girls – twins – are a pair of hellions. Sir Rodger Huntford is an unpleasant, miserly man who cares for little beyond his own convenience and who pays his servants as little as he possibly can. His house is a mess, the servants are lazy and surly and he blames Joanna for the fact that his daughters are ill disciplined.

Major Luke Preston is the second son of the Earl of Ingham and has risen to his current rank by dint of his own hard work. He is justifiably proud of his achievements in the army, where he feels he has earned his place and reputation, so he is furious when strings are pulled in order to have him sent home. His older brother, Edward, is the heir to the earldom, but is, after ten years of marriage, childless, so it’s time to face facts and for Luke to find himself a wife to breed the necessary future heir.

He is tired of being presented with one insipid hopeful after another until, at an evening party, he strikes up a conversation with an attractive young woman and is surprised to find she is neither insipid nor dull.  At first, he mistakes her for one of the Huntford girls, only to be surprised to learn that she is, in fact, their governess, who has been detailed to act as chaperone for the eldest of them for the evening.

But even though Luke is the heir to an earldom, his position is not an easy one.  Thanks to the profligacy of his great-grandfather, the Ingham estate needs careful management if it is to finally become free of the debts incurred several generations earlier.  The pressure on Luke is therefore twofold; not only must he start populating the nursery, he must marry money as well.  Which means there is no place in his life for a lowly governess, no matter the depth of their mutual attraction or how strong a connection they feel to one another.

Ms. Lee writes the developing relationship between Joanna and Luke well, and imbues it with a strong sense of longing and of hopelessness, as both of them are well aware that their respective circumstances will not allow them to be anything more than friends.  And that even their being friends is risky and could lead to Joanna’s dismissal should that friendship be discovered.  The problem, though, is that for most of this first section of the novel, all Luke really wants to do is sulk and go back to the army, and Joanna is little more than a blond, doe-eyed doll-ingénue who doesn’t expect much out of life.  She shows a different side of herself on the few occasions she is able to converse freely with Luke, but otherwise, she’s fairly bland.  And then there’s the fact that throughout the story, she keeps telling herself that sleeping with Luke would be a Very Bad Idea – after all, look what happened to her friend, Grace – but then she does it anyway. It makes no sense.

I did, however, enjoy the relationship Ms. Lee has created between Luke and his brother, which is one of the book’s high points.  They used to be close, but now, Luke is bitter about having been called home, Edward is frustrated because he is unable to do the one thing he is supposed to do – continue the family line – and they clash repeatedly, mostly because neither of them is willing to understand the other’s point of view.  But there comes a point at which this starts to change, and it’s very well handled, with both brothers starting to realise that they have misjudged each other.

Probably my biggest issue with the story, though, is the giant-sized anvil that is introduced just before a quarter of the way through that finally falls on our heads in the last quarter.   Even then, though, this fortuitous plot device can’t be allowed to give Luke and Joanna their happy ending, so the author throws in a contrived and rather silly road-block for no reason I can determine other than to pad out the page count.

I’ve read a few of Georgie Lee’s historical romances now, and while some of those books proved disappointing, she’s still an author I look out for, as she has the ability to make good use of historical fact to craft effective and accurate backdrops for her stories (The Captain’s Frozen Dream) and can create interesting situations and appealing characters, such as in Debt Paid in Marriage. But unfortunately, the lacklustre heroine and inconsistencies in The Cinderella Governess kept pulling me out of the story, and I’m afraid I can’t recommend it.

A Too Convenient Marriage (The Business of Marriage #2) by Georgie Lee

a too convenient marriage
This title may be purchased from Amazon

Late one night Susanna Lambert, illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Rockland, bursts uninvited into a stranger’s carriage, turning both their worlds upside down. Suddenly fun-loving Justin Connor finds himself forced to consider marriage!

For Susanna, marrying Justin is a chance to finally escape her cruel stepmother and forget about the rake who ruined her. But as wedding bells begin to chime Susanna discovers she’s carrying a huge secret… One that could turn to dust all promises of happiness as Justin’s wife!

Rating: C+

In her companion novel to last year’s A Debt Paid in Marriage, Georgie Lee picks up the story of Justin Connor, whom we met in the earlier book as an employee and friend of its hero, Philip Rathbone. Like that book, A Too Convenient Marriage is set largely away from the world of the ton and the aristocracy, featuring characters from the merchant class who are working hard to make their own way in the world.

While Justin doesn’t regret or in any way resent working for his friend, he wants to branch out on his own and to that end, put a large sum money into an investment venture which went sour when the ship carrying the goods which were supposed to give him his start in business was lost at sea. Even though he could not afford such a loss, Justin remains undaunted and is still determined to go into business for himself, no matter the opinion of his current paramour who has just turned down Justin’s proposal of marriage because she has no faith in him or his ability to make something of himself.

Bitter and disappointed, Justin has no time to indulge either of those feelings when his carriage door is yanked open, a young woman jumps inside and insists they drive off immediately. Not in the best of moods, Justin refuses although he can’t help noticing the interloper’s agitated state, which is explained very shortly afterwards by the appearance of her father, the Duke of Rockland and her half-brother, the Marquess of Sutton, who berate her and all but drag her away – although not until Justin has given the blustering marquess a black-eye for his mistreatment of the lady. Keen to avoid scandal, the duke asks Justin to call on him the following day and Justin, seeing a business opportunity, agrees, still curious as to why the daughter of a duke was so desperate to get away that she would jump into a stranger’s carriage.

All becomes clear when Justin pays his visit to the ducal residence the following morning. The young woman is Miss Susanna Lambert, the duke’s illegitimate daughter, whom he has housed since the death of her mother, who was shrewd enough to have made it his legal obligation to do so. But this does not mean she was able to ensure that her daughter was treated kindly; Susanna’s life has been made miserable by the duchess and her daughter, who treat her like an unpaid servant and belittle her constantly while her father looks the other way. When Lord Howsham started to show an interest in her, Susanna thought she saw a way to get away from the Rocklands once and for all, and even though she wasn’t especially fond of, or attracted to him, allowed his attentions – and more. The duke, wary of further gossip concerning his family, wants to get rid of Susanna as much as she wants to leave, and seeing his chance, offers Justin Susanna’s hand and dowry.

Justin is suspicious, but Susanna is both lovely and intelligent – and quickly demonstrates a clear head for business, so he thinks “why not?” and agrees to the proposal. The wedding is to take place as soon as possible, before any news of Susanna’s dalliance with Howsham can leak out, and it very quickly becomes apparent to both Justin and Susanna that they have made a good bargain. Not only are they very attracted to each other, they find it easy to talk and for the first time in a very long time, Justin has someone who is prepared to believe in him and support his plans and ambitions. Having been used to having his ideas scorned and shot-down by his disgruntled, inebriated and elderly father, and been rejected by the woman he’d hoped to marry, Justin is awed and humbled by the fact that Susanna, a virtual stranger, can think so well of him. Susanna, too, finds much to be pleased about, discovering in Justin an honourable, intelligent companion, a man who understands her need to escape her horrid family and doesn’t judge her for her past mistakes. As a couple, they work very well together, growing to like and love each other and being openly communicative and supportive. But of course, this can’t continue, or it’d be a much shorter book, so just before the wedding, Susanna makes an unwelcome discovery which is bound to prove a Big Obstacle to their happiness and which must be overcome before all can end happily.

I enjoyed the story overall, although it is quite repetitive in places, especially when it comes to Susanna’s treatment by the duke and his family and the way she was – and still is – regarded by society as the lowest of the low because of her illegitimacy. The author is, unfortunately, quite correct about the stigma that attached to such a thing at the time, it’s just that it comes up so often – how hateful Lady Rockland is, how Susanna’s own grandfather berated her for being a bastard, how Susanna had known no love or affection after her mother died – that I felt I was being hit over the head with it.

Justin is an engaging hero, a caring, considerate man with insecurities of his own but who is determined to succeed. His reaction to the Big Obstacle is understandable, but fortunately, Ms Lee doesn’t allow the couples’ difficulties to go on for too long, showing clearly that this is a pair who are so well suited that they will always find their way back to one another.

The book is generally well-written and I particularly liked the relationship that developed between Susanna and Justin’s father as well as the friendship that exists between Justin and Philip Rathbone. The romance is nicely developed and makes good use of the marriage-of-convenience trope in a slightly different way in that the principals actually like each other and look set to make a really good start to their lives together. A Too Convenient Marriage is perhaps not a book I’ll re-visit, but it’s a quick, undemanding read and a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours.

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The Captain’s Frozen Dream by Georgie Lee

captains frozen dream

Can he salvage her reputation?

Trapped in the Arctic ice, intrepid explorer Captain Conrad Essington was driven on by thoughts of his fiancée, Katie Vickers. Finally home, he’s ready to take her in his arms and kiss away the nightmare of that devastating winter.

Except the last eighteen months haven’t been plain sailing for Katie either. With Conrad believed dead and her reputation in tatters, Katie had relinquished hope of her fiancé ever returning to save her. Now he’s back, could the dreams they’d both put on hold at last come true?

Rating: C

The Captain’s Frozen Dream is a tale of lovers reunited after a year-and-a-half’s separation. Both have endured much in the months since last they saw each other, but those events have profoundly changed them both – perhaps so much so that they will never be able to recapture the feelings they once held for one another.

Captain Conrad Essington took up a commission in the Discovery Service rather than remain in the Navy as a half-pay officer without a ship following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. He has become a respected and well-known explorer, in spite of the efforts of his bitter, twisted uncle, the Marquess of Helton to prevent his advancement. But Conrad’s most recent expedition to the Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage went seriously awry, and saw him and his crew stranded in dangerous, inhospitable conditions for eighteen months, a situation for which Conrad blames himself.

Conrad had an understanding with a young woman, Katie Vickers, the daughter of a country doctor-turned-palaeontologist, who often worked on the finds from the captain’s expeditions, cleaning and cataloguing the items that Conrad brought back with him. Before leaving for the Arctic, Conrad asked Katie to marry him, but she wanted to wait until his return before making any firm commitment. Furious at the prospect of a nobody polluting the aristocratic Helton line, the marquess caused Katie’s father’s work to be discredited, and made sure her reputation was shredded in Conrad’s absence, so that nobody, even the more liberal of the scientific societies, will take her work seriously.

When Conrad eventually returns, it’s to find a very different Katie to the open, optimistic young woman he left behind. She has had to cope with the death of her father as well as the scandal not of her making, and is still angry with Conrad for leaving and for not being there for her when she needed him. For his part, Conrad is haunted by the events that led to the loss of his ship and his crew being stranded, and also for the death of one of his closest friends among the crew. It was the thought of Katie and returning to her that enabled him to carry on through some of the darkest days of his life – and yet now he is home, she persists in pushing him away.

Conrad is determined to win her back but has underestimated the difficulty of the challenge he has set himself. Katie is emotionally fragile and determined never again to place her happiness in the hands of someone who – she believes – can never be content staying in one place.

The thing I enjoyed about this book was the author’s use of a rather unusual background for her story, which is set amongst the scientific community in the early years of the 19th century. As she explains in her note at the end, fossil hunting, the study of ancient creatures and attempts to date different geological periods in rock strata was an area of growing scientific interest worldwide at this period, and she has referenced the work of several experts of the time and included some as characters in the book. She also makes it clear just how difficult it was for a woman to be taken seriously in such circles, and her research into the scientific background, both in terms of the geological detail and the work of the intrepid explorers of the 19th century is clearly extensive.

As a romance, however, the story is less successful, mostly because it’s difficult to like or sympathise with Katie and the majority of her actions towards Conrad. It’s very true that through no fault of her own – other than falling in love with the nephew of a powerful aristocrat – she has been vilified in society, and owing to that and to the fact that her father’s death left her with nothing but debt, her life has become one big struggle. Growing up with a father who paid her little attention until she was old enough to assist him in his work, and knowing that her father’s obsession with his fossils was the causeof her mother’s leaving them both, Katie finds it difficult to trust Conrad, sure that he will abandon her eventually because he is as obsessed with his work as her father was with his. I don’t think one can blame her for feeling that way – the problem is that for almost all of the book she refuses to attempt to see another point of view or admit that perhaps she is allowing her past to dictate her actions to the detriment of her happiness. Conrad wants only to help her, to help to put right the damage done by his uncle and to marry her, yet she runs away from him and rejects him repeatedly. Fortunately for her, Conrad is persistent, but after the third rebuff, I was starting to think that perhaps he’d be better off without her! At one point, Conrad finally snaps and accuses Katie of blaming him for everything that has gone wrong in her life – and it’s true. All she sees are her own problems, yet even though she has realised that Conrad isn’t exactly the same man as the one that went away, she is so self-focused on her grievances and hurt that she fails to see that he’s hurting, too.

The writing is solid and as I’ve said above, Ms Lee has obviously done her homework when it comes to the historical setting and background, but although I normally enjoy stories of lovers reunited, The Captain’s Frozen Dream didn’t quite hit the mark for me in the romance department.

A Debt Paid in Marriage by Georgie Lee

a debt paid in marriage

“What am I to him? A contract? A convenient solution?”

Laura Townsend’s plan to reclaim her family’s merchandise backfires when she creeps into moneylender Philip Rathbone’s house and threatens him with a pistol, only to find him reclining naked in his bath!

The last thing she expects is to see this guarded widower on her doorstep a couple of days later armed with a very surprising proposal. A marriage of convenience may be Laura’s chance to reclaim her future, but she won’t settle for anything less than true passion. Can she hope to find it in Philip’s arms?

Rating: B

It’s quite refreshing to find a story set in this period in which the protagonists are ordinary working people. In A Debt Paid in Marriage, Laura Townsend and her mother are left to the care of her uncle following the death of Laura’s father, who was a prosperous draper. Unfortunately, Robert Townsend very quickly gambles away the family business and reduces them all to penury.

In a desperate, last-ditch attempt to salvage something, Laura sneaks in to the home of Philip Rathbone, the moneylender from whom her uncle had borrowed a large sum for which he’d used the business as security. She plans to force Rathbone into returning some valuable cloth to her so that she can recoup some of their losses and begin to repay the debt. Discovering her quarry relaxing in his bath, Laura confronts him at gunpoint. Rathbone is surprisingly unperturbed and makes no bones whatsoever about rising from the bath and dripping all over the carpet so he can show her – while completely naked – the paperwork proving his ownership of the business.

Shocked at his sangfroid and realising hers is a lost cause, Laura flees back to the dingy room in Seven Dials she shares with her mother, knowing that they will soon be unable to afford even that. Her uncle has disappeared on one of his regular drinking binges, and she has no idea what is to become of them.

Philip, meanwhile, can’t forget the quiet desperation and courage of the young woman who had challenged him, and thinks she may provide the solution to some of his most pressing problems. A widower with a young son and a thirteen year-old sister, he needs someone to guide and befriend Jane and a mother for Thomas – so he tracks Laura down and proposes a marriage of convenience. He will take care of her and her mother and in return she will run his household and learn his business and eventually, he hopes, bear him more children. Having no alternative, Laura agrees, and that very day Philip removes her and her mother to his home, but not before an unpleasant confrontation with her uncle, who makes clear his opposition and threatens them both.

The relationship between Philip and Laura is very well written, and I was particularly intrigued by the unusual profession Ms Lee has chosen for her hero. Through Laura’s tutelage, she gives the reader an insight to the workings of his business, and offers a different view to the one normally found in such stories, wherein the moneylender is a cruel, rapacious villain. Philip is a scrupulously honest, fair man who is above board in all his dealings and who even tries to help those who can’t help themselves.

Because of the situation in which she found herself – dependent on a man who gambled away their livelihood – Laura is initially wary of Philip and believes him to be a cold, unemotional man. But watching him with his son and seeing his affection for his sometimes exasperating sister gradually shows Laura that Philip’s not unfeeling, just someone who is very guarded and keeps his emotions on a tight rein. As she spends more time with him – in both familial and work situations –Laura comes to realise that behind his aloofness is a fear of emotional involvement.

Philip loved his first wife deeply and was devastated by her death following Thomas’ birth. He is attracted to Laura, but never wants to experience such hurt again and determines that he will not open his heart to her. But as time goes on, he just can’t help doing so, no matter how hard he tries not to. The one false note I felt is struck in the book is towards the end, after something happens to cause Philip’s fears to come thundering back. Laura is then faced with the choice of letting him retreat from her or fighting for their marriage – and Philip’s volte-face is so fast that it could have caused whiplash.

But that’s my one reservation. Otherwise, this is a lovely, gentle story about two people who have suffered tragedy finding each other and falling in love. It’s not plain sailing all the way of course –there are times when Laura’s view of Philip leads her to badly misjudge him and hurt him deeply, but fortunately, she’s a woman who is capable of owing her mistakes and apologising for them; and there’s also the shadow of her uncle’s threats hanging over them. Both are well drawn and likeable, and the same is true of the secondary characters – Jane, Laura’s mother, and Philip’s friend and colleague, Justin Connor, who I hope may get his own book at some point.

A Debt Paid in Marriage is a quick, but sweetly romantic read, and one I’d certainly recommend to anyone looking for an historical that isn’t full of dukes, earls, and debutantes.

 

Hero’s Redemption by Georgie Lee

HR

London, 1817

Devon, the Earl of Malton, is a hero for his deeds at the Battle of Waterloo. But he suffers terrible nightmares, and drinks himself to sleep most nights. A habit he vows to break when he awakes one morning to find a woman sharing his bed, no memory of how she got there, and her angry brother at his door.

Cathleen is mortified when her wastrel brother and his greedy wife propose a blackmail scheme involving the earl, but as a penniless war widow she’s at their mercy. She goes along with the plan and sneaks into Devon’s bed one night, and ends up comforting him through a night terror.

Charmed by her beauty and kindness, Devon determines that rather than pay the blackmail, he will offer his hand in marriage to Cathleen. Although she is deeply attracted to the stoic earl, Cathleen cannot understand why Devon would want to marry her. What she doesn’t know is that Devon owes her a debt that can never fully be repaid…

Rating: C-

I’ve sometimes reviewed a full-length novel that I’ve felt would have worked better as a novella because the storyline didn’t contain enough plot and the novel felt as though half of it was padding. In Hero’s Redemption, I felt the reverse was the case.

There are several plot strands to story and all of them suffered from being underdeveloped. Devon, Lord Malton rescues Cathleen Selton from the clutches of her slatternly, grasping relatives by marrying her. But her nasty cousin Lionel and his equally unpleasant wife, Martha, had expected to blackmail Devon into keeping quiet about the fact that Cathleen had spent the night (innocently) in his bed. Needless to say, the marriage foils their plan so instead, they come up with one to murder Devon and appropriate Cathleen’s widows’ portion.

That’s the story in a nutshell, but added in are the fact that Devon, a decorated war hero, is tortured with guilt at the fact that a fellow soldier died saving Devon’s life; and that this soldier turns out to be none other than Cathleen’s late husband. So initially, he proposes to her out of guilt and as a way to make some sort of reparation for the fact that her husband died saving him.

Of course, Cathleen does not know the real reason Devon proposed to her, and even though he knows he should tell her, and in fact plans to do so, he keeps putting it off until she hears it from someone else. I suppose the fact that this is a novella means that this setback in their relationship was actually dealt with quite quickly rather than being dragged out, which is certainly a plus point.

But there is a lot on the negative side which outweighs it. The characters are not fully developed, the fact of Devon’s PTSD is not fully addressed, and Lionel and Martha read like pantomime villains. We are told that Devon finds Cathleen’s voice soothing and that she helps to pull him out of his nightmares – both waking and asleep – and settle him, but that’s hardly a long-term cure (and I use the word “cure” loosely) for PTSD!

Also – I didn’t really want to read about grubby, greedy Lionel and Martha having sex, thank you very much! The word-count was limited as it was, and could have been better spent on developing the romance between Cathleen and Devon which seemed to spring forth fully formed. There was no real getting to know each other – they went from strangers to being in love so quickly, I had to track back to make sure I hadn’t missed something.

To sum up, then, I thought the premise of Hero’s Redemption wasn’t at all bad, but it read like the bare bones of a novel, rather than a complete and, ultimately, satisfying novella.