Janet W, Reviewer
The marriage of convenience trope is top-of-the-trees for me, especially in Regency historicals, even though marriage at the time was often more a case of convenience than true lurv. But this is romance so historical accuracy is only a part of the picture—it’s a given that our couple, no matter the circumstances behind their decision to marry, will find a happily-ever-after in each other’s arms. But what if it’s a given that the convenient marriage will be dramatically brief and sexual congress will not be part of the marriage contract? Let’s set the stage. 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. To add to the deliciousness of the unlikely twosome, take a moment to revisit Graeme’s story, in Candace Camp’s A Perfect Gentleman. Graeme, during a visit to his cousin James, witnesses James’ fond farewell to his mistress. Not! “Yes, but I would have thought—it’s just—you’re not going to tell her good-bye?” “I just did.” “With a note.” “And some very fine diamonds. Believe me, she’ll appreciate those far more than a few words from me.” He gave Graeme a half smile. “Don’t worry about bruising Ellie Hobart’s heart, coz. She doesn’t have one. That’s why I choose not to indulge in romantic encounters. There’s no emotion involved, only cash. No fuss and no tears.” So not a sentimental gentleman. Still, the urge to keep on waking up each morning is strong so it’s with great disappointment that James realizes that Dr. Hinsdale, the physician recommended by his cousin Graeme, is dead. His daughter Laura is alive, though. James finds her “grappling with Sid Merton in front of her house. Even more humiliating, given her current situation, she must hope for his help.” We’re in familiar territory—even a hero on his last legs is capable of rescuing a lady from a merciless, avaricious landlord. And if the hero isn’t quite up to snuff, there’s always his dog. There was a dead silence as both Laura and Merton gaped at the dog. The top of his square head was level with James’s waist—and James was a tall man. The animal’s muscular body was a mottled combination of black and yellowish tan, but the muzzle and face were entirely black, as if he wore a mask, and it rendered his eyes barely visible, giving him an even more sinister appearance. James flicked his hand toward Laura. “Guard her.” The dog stalked over—he was even more terrifying at close range—and took up a stance beside Laura, fixing Merton with his unswerving gaze. Color drained from the big man’s face and he dropped Laura’s arm. Shooting her a final vicious look, Merton whirled and strode away, not glancing in Sir James’s direction. Laura’s stunned gaze followed him for a moment, then went to James. Gratitude mingled awkwardly with her years-old dislike. “I, um, thank you.” Sir James gave a careless shrug and strolled toward her. Gratitude, awkwardness, carelessness: the stage is truly set for the most pragmatic of unions although Laura is completely taken aback when Sir James De Vere returns the next day to see her. When he asks to speak with her in a more formal part of her house than the kitchen, she is wary and suspicious, which both amuses and irritates Sir James. “I’m not here to blight your life. I have come to propose an arrangement of mutual benefit.” Laura stared, her mind reeling. “Pardon? Are you—are you offering to make me your mistress?” He was the one who stared now. “Good God!” To her amazement, a flush rose in his cheeks. “No, Miss Hinsdale, I am not here to purchase your nubile body, entrancing as I am sure it is.” Laura crossed her arms over her chest. “Just what are you here for?” “I have come to ask for your hand in marriage.” Laura Hinsdale’s options are limited. She knows that. She realizes that her “exigent circumstances” make it impossible for her to say no to Sir James’s proposal. Still, there are limits and she straightforwardly makes her case. “… I would rather remain in my penniless state, here in my ungracious home, with my unrespectable name, than share your bed.” He let out a dry laugh, surprising her. “Trust me, Miss Hinsdale, the way I feel now, lust is the furthest thing from my mind.” “What about in the future?” He looked at her flatly. “There won’t be any future.” Is it any wonder that Laura is “nonplussed?” The unlikely couple marries and makes their way to James’s home—a home that’s rife with his unpleasant family. Laura takes it all in stride but as a doctor’s daughter, she feels compelled to search for the source of James’s fatal illness, and, if possible, cure it. Which she does, with dogged, intelligent persistence—which cannot come as a surprise. It’s the aftermath that is a surprise to both James and Laura—inexplicably, they are very much a unit. It was as if the two of them had been through some small, fierce personal war together, and the victory was even sweeter because they held it together. But she hadn’t expected him to hold her long. There was around James some unseen barrier, a layer that stood between him and others. She wasn’t sure why or what it was, but she knew that it would embarrass him to have relaxed his guard. Can a man who lives by the mantra of “no emotion,” “only cash” and “no fuss and no tears” risk it all to find warmth and solace in the arms of his “momentary” wife? Read Candace Camp’s A Momentary Marriage to see for yourself and you’ll realize that it’s no wonder the marriage of convenience trope is forever popular.