Charlotte Robb and her husband, Hugh, shared a whirlwind love affair that led to marriage, but their passionate natures turned their relationship into a difficult and contentious one. To escape, Hugh went off to fight in the war on the continent, leaving Charlotte heartbroken and alone. Then came the news of Hugh's demise at the Battle of Albuera. For the past six years, Charlotte has lived as a widow and has gained something of a scandalous reputation, but deep down she's never loved anyone but Hugh. When he suddenly shows up on her doorstep, can she make peace with the man he once was to make room for the new, and seemingly improved, man before her now?
Hugh was seriously wounded at Albuera, a head injury causing a loss of all memory of who he really was. Then through a bureaucratic error, he was misidentified as a German soldier and sent to Bavaria, where he has lived a humble life ever since. After a very long time, his memory finally returned and and he didn't like the knowledge of the man he once was. It took a couple more years of debate over whether going back home would make Charlotte happy or simply hurt her more before he finally decided that she was worth fighting for. But he may have his work cut out for him earning her forgiveness.
"The Trouble with Charlotte" is a novella in Victoria Alexander's Effington Family & Friends series. It's listed by the author and other online book sites as falling between The Pursuit of Marriage and A Visit from Sir Nicholas in the series ordering, which as far as I can tell is based solely on publication date. However, based on the storyline, it has to take place chronologically sometime before Love With the Proper Husband. That's because the story is basically being narrated by Marcus Holcroft, the Earl of Pennington and the hero of that book, who is relating the events to his good friend, Reginald Berkley. Marcus is telling Reggie about nearly falling in love with Charlotte, the heroine of this novella, but then her believed-dead husband, Hugh, suddenly returns, putting the kibosh on his plans to court her.
Charlotte and Hugh experienced a passionate, whirlwind, love affair in their youth that led to marriage. However, the entire first year of their life as a couple was little more than a series of heated arguments. To get away, Hugh purchased a military commission and went off to fight Napoleon, leaving Charlotte all alone. Then news came of Hugh's demise in a major battle. During the ensuing six years, she has carefully cultivated the facade of a merry widow who enjoys indulging in casual affairs, but in reality she never got over Hugh, who was the love of her life. But when he suddenly turns up on her doorstep after all this time, she can scarcely believe it's really him, and she isn't sure how she feels about his resurrection. She loves him, but their time together was so contentious, she doesn't want things to go back to the way they were again.
Hugh was badly wounded during the battle of Albuera, including a head injury that caused amnesia. Through a clerical error, he ended up being mistaken for a German soldier and sent to Bavaria, while Hugh's name was listed as deceased. Because he bore a resemblance to that soldier and the man's family hadn't seen him in years, they accepted that Hugh was Johann, and he lived with them until several years later when his memory finally returned. Still, he didn't go back home, because he also recalled what an unpleasant person he'd been and thought that Charlotte would be better off without him. But eventually he decided to go home after all. However, he has much to make up for to gain Charlotte's forgiveness.
As I started reading "The Trouble with Charlotte," I thought that I might enjoy it more than some of Victoria Alexander's other books in the series, which have been hit and miss for me. It seemed a little more on the serious side at first, but by the end, it had switched to the author's trademark light and breezy style. I felt like there were certain things that weren't explained well and/or stretched the bounds of credibility. Eg. Hugh didn't speak German, yet he accepted that he was German. Didn't he think and speak in English and wonder why that might be? Also Hugh and Charlotte appeared to have had major marital problems before he left, but that all seems to be glossed over. Instead each of them tends to easily accept that the other has changed, and in fact, is reluctant to be together because they think of one another now as paragons of virtue that they can't live up to. This was all a little too silly for me and I felt that the story would have been better if the rifts that had torn them apart in the first place had been examined more closely and healed rather than magically disappearing in the light of their love and newfound emotional growth. It just felt like they needed more time to reconnect and get to know each other again. Also, I felt like said growth was more told than shown, so I was having trouble feeling the connection between them and believing that it was going to work this time. I think my favorite part was Marcus giving both of them his unvarnished opinion along with some sage advice before telling them that they were both quite mad. That part was actually pretty funny because it was more or less how I was feeling. Overall, this novella was a mildly entertaining story, but after a string of so-so reads in the series, it unfortunately wasn't one that reinvigorated my interest in this author's work. "The Trouble with Charlotte" can be found in the anthology The One That Got Away.
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