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The Inconvenient Elmswood Marriage (Penniless Brides of Convenience)

by Marguerite Kaye

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The previous three books in the series were about the three sisters and this one is about the Aunt-in-law; Kate and her husband m the reluctant Lord Elmswood, The two of them have been happily living their lives apart and now he's back and ill and has to face up to some of his demons before he can go on with his life because now he can't avoid them any more.
It was an interesting read and I really did enjoy how the characters sparked off each other. ( )
  wyvernfriend | Nov 12, 2020 |
There is nothing better than anticipating a book’s release, and it turning out to be even better than you expected. The buildup to this story has been incredibly well-done in the previous three books, and this story, both in and of itself and as a conclusion to the series, is magnificent.

Kate Wilson is the daughter of the Elmswood estate manager. Her father has been ill for some time, and she has basically taken over all of the responsibilities of the position. When old Lord Elmswood dies, she knows that she is in a quandary. She wants to keep her father on the estate he has known for whatever life he has left, and she knows that she can do the work of managing the property, even modernizing it. All she has to do is convince the heir of this fact.

She’s known of Daniel Fairfax all of her life. He’s eight years her senior, and he was packed off to school when they were still children, but she’s glimpsed him now and again, on the few times he’s been around. She knows that he wants nothing to do with Elmswood, which she hopes will work in her favor. Indeed, Daniel confirms that he doesn’t want the property, doesn’t care what happens to it, and is all for her continuing in the role of estate manager, title and all. Kate knows that being elevated to her father’s title won’t actually give her the power to carry out the role, so she proposes a radical solution: marriage. She can run the estate with the backing of her husband’s authority, and Daniel can leave and never come back, as he so plainly wishes. Daniel agrees, they marry, and he leaves the next day.

Theirs is a true marriage of convenience, not just a setup for a love story. Neither one has feelings for the other, neither expects to develop feelings for the other, and both expect that this is exactly what it says on the tin: an arrangement that will suit them both to continue living their lives as they already are.

For 11 years, that holds true. Even when Daniel’s nieces arrive (the heroines from the previous 3 stories), it’s Kate who takes them under her wing and raises them, nourishes them, loves them, and ultimately lets them go. Then two mysterious government types arrive at her door. Kate thinks that they’re there to bring a cachet of letters from her far-flung husband, until they tell her otherwise. With as little information as they can share, they tell her that her husband is in trouble, that they are going to retrieve him, and that she is to accompany them. She has no idea what she’s in for, and as the novel opens, we are in the aftermath of that incredible journey. It takes 9 months to bring Daniel back to England, and in that time, she has basically acted as his nurse as he recovers from the various illnesses and ailments that befell him in captivity.

So Kate has just spent 9 months traipsing around the globe to retrieve a husband she knows nothing about, and now they are back at Elmswood cooling their heels. Daniel doesn’t want to be there, which he makes quite plain, and Kate is beginning to wonder if she does, having seen something of the world after living her entire life in a corner of Shropshire.

We soon learn that Daniel works for the foreign service, that he broke protocol, which caused him to be captured, and now that he is back on safe turf in England, he’s being punished for his obstinacy. He’s told by his handlers that he has to stay at Elmswood for 3 months, ostensibly to recover, but that he can’t just hide himself away – Lord Elmswood is back and he better be making it known that he’s back and finally interested in mixing with what passes for Society in the country.

Daniel’s loathing for Elmswood can’t be overstated. He feels that he was released from one prison, only to be sent to another. He’s forced to confront what bit of his life he had on the estate, and relive a lot of pain from his childhood. He has issues with both his father and his sister that continually crop up, not the least because Kate encourages him to meet his nieces. He refuses – he’s been in espionage long enough to know that emotional attachments are deadly. Dealing with a wife is one thing; dealing with blood relations, entirely another.

Daniel is a beautifully complex character, with layers and layers that Kate continually uncovers as she gets to know him. He is very much his own man, marches to the beat of his own drummer, but he is also a terrible patient, irritating in the extreme. After caring for 3 girls starved of attention, Kate is not prepared to deal with a stubborn, fiercely independent man, especially one who wants nothing more than to leave the estate that she’s cherished her entire life.

Kate is very much his match. She knows her own mind. As Lady Elmswood, she has brought much-needed order to the estate, and has allowed her tenants to modernize it. Society wants nothing to do with her, since she was born into the working class, but that’s fine with her – she wants nothing to do with them, either. Having an absent husband has suited her just fine. Having him back is also rather suiting to her. She’s never felt the need (or had time for) a great passion, but she’s always found him attractive, and why not? They are married, after all. Would it be so horrible to embark upon an affair, find out what she’s been missing out on (now that her nieces are gushing on about their love matches)?

The two of them decide to make the best of their forced time together, and work on getting to know each other. Daniel is grateful and appreciative that Kate has taken such good care of the estate and their tenants; he tells her many times that marrying her was the best decision he ever made. Kate helps him navigate what passes for Society in their corner of England, and they grow closer. All the while, the end of this “sentence” looms, making them wonder if it’s worth it to become too entangled, knowing that it can’t last.

*happy sigh* This book is just wonderful. A major advantage is that both characters are older – Kate is 33, Daniel is 39. They both have plenty of life experience behind them, which informs their decisions (for better and worse). They fall in love with each other almost without realizing it, but they are mature enough to handle their passion and realize its consequences. Meanwhile, they have their own personal struggles as well: Daniel learns more and more about his family, which he finds deeply troubling; Kate is starting to realize that she has a lot of life ahead of her, and that it’s going to be empty, now that her father and the girls are gone. Daniel will be gone soon, too, and then what is she going to do? It reminds me of a song lyric: “A taste of honey’s worse than none at all.”

There is more than enough internal strife to deal with, and mercifully, there is no external drama. The characters are given space to deal with themselves, and each other. Daniel’s “punishment” is a bit contrived, but ultimately there is a wonderful payoff to his storyline, as he reconciles who he was as a child, as a teen, and who he has become as an adult. Honestly, he reminds me a lot of my favorite character of all time, Sesshoumaru, which is probably why I find his character particularly appealing.

If ever I’ve had an issue with Ms. Kaye’s work, it’s usually that I find her heroines less than: immature, insecure, annoying. That is not the case here. I LOVE Kate’s strength. She recognizes the love first, and she deals with it as best she can. There’s no drama or acting out here – what’s the point, after all? Others might find it unbelievable that she made it to 33 without even kissing a man, but I personally liked that. I appreciated that she was a perfectly capable, perfectly normal-looking woman who wasn’t ruled by her hormones. Love is a lot more fleeting than what is found in romance novels, and I appreciated having a mature heroine who was still innocent in some ways. It didn’t stop her; if anything, it informed her.

This book hit all of my squee buttons with the push-pull of the main relationship, with Daniel’s struggles with identity, with Kate’s fear of having too much life left to live and nothing of particular worth to fill it with. It’s perfectly balanced with banter and lightness as the two of them rub along. Kate keeps pushing Daniel to meet his nieces; Daniel teaches Kate how to do yoga, to help center her mind and body. There’s some very romantic and sexy scenes, too. For me, it was the perfect balance of romance and characterization, and thus, the best book of this series.

There is an epilogue to wrap everything up, with cameos from our previous couples, though I wonder if there is a typo: it says 1853 in my book, but it doesn’t sound like twenty years have passed between the main story and the updates given here! I certainly hope not :)

A bonus treat was the meta! I loved the shoutout to Ms. Kaye’s previous Armstrong Sisters series (though it took me longer than I liked to admit to realize that, haha). There’s some crossover between the two words here. The author’s notes were also a delight, because I am a research nerd. There were some hat tips to modern readers, if that’s your bag. Eloise’s book is still my least favorite, but I think I may revisit it, now that we know more about the hero Alexander’s world/work, just to complete the circle. ( )
  eurohackie | Dec 19, 2019 |
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