After the death of her parents, Claire Curran, an English lady, became the ward of her unscrupulous uncle. Dressed as a young man she assisted him with some of his business dealings, and to that end, she traveled to Virginia carrying papers to one Devon Rivard. Unbeknownst to her, the documents seal her own fate in an arranged marriage to the man in exchange for her uncle clearing Devon's brother of a debt he owes. Having no desire to be sold off like a possession, Claire tries to escape, but Devon has no intention of letting her get away. Instead, he proposes that it be a marriage in name only until they receive word from her uncle that the debt has been cleared, then they can seek an annulment and go their separate ways. Claire reluctantly agrees, but she didn't expect to start falling for her handsome husband.
Devon isn't much happier about the arranged marriage than Claire, but as an impoverished plantation owner with no liquidity to pay the debt, he has little choice but to follow through with it. Much to his surprise, from the moment she walks through the door of his mansion, Claire brings a ray of sunshine with her, and sets about remaking his house into the home he has always wanted but never had. Slowly but surely, he begins to fall for his pretty and talented new wife, even if she is sometimes a little too outspoken. When a series of mysterious "accidents" occur, it seems that someone may want Claire dead, but that threat could pale in comparison to a bigger global problem. America appears to be on the cusp of war with England, and if conflict breaks out, Devon wants nothing more than to keep Claire safe, even if it means sending her back to England.
I've had Come What May on my TBR list for quite some time, and based solely on the synopsis, I honestly couldn't remember why I'd put it there in the first place. Once I started reading it, I finally figured out that it was because the book is a rare colonial-set historical romance and even rarer still, it takes place just before the American Revolution. There is a strong historical element present with a few real-life personages as characters. The hero is a member of the House of Burgesses, and both he and the heroine are well-versed on the political climate of the era. This and many historical details of the events leading up to the Revolutionary War are included, giving the novel a bit of a historical fiction feel. It was very enjoyable and different to read a romance set during this time period.
In spite of this, the story got off to a rather slow start for me. Initially, I didn't think there was much to recommend any of the characters. Devon could be somewhat boorish, his brother, Wyndom certainly wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed, and his mother and Aunt Elsbeth are two shallow, self- absorbed women. Claire had some admirable qualities, but even she was a little too stubborn for me. Luckily, as the story progressed, Devon and Claire grew on me, although I still thought their romance could have been a bit stronger. In the beginning, these two fight like cats and dogs. They do share a mutual physical attraction, but not much else, although I suppose that's somewhat understandable since both of them were essentially forced into a marriage neither wanted. They are two willful, independent people who each have their own agenda of things they'd like to accomplish and tend to see the other one as a hindrance to achieving those goals. Gradually, they begin to develop a mutual respect for one another. Claire sees that Devon is a responsible man who has taken the weight of the world upon his shoulders in caring for his ungrateful family. Devon sees Claire make his home come alive in a way it never has before as she puts her skills to work setting everything to rights even though she doesn't intend to stay. Out of this respect, their love slowly begins to grow until neither of them wants to end the marriage after all. They finally share a few romantic moments and one moderately descriptive love scene before everything comes crashing down around them, very nearly ending their newfound love before it has a chance to fully blossom.
As I mentioned, Devon begins the book with a rather disagreeable temperament and treats Claire (and pretty much everyone else for that matter) in a somewhat uncivil manner. He is the only responsible person in an extremely irresponsible family. Devon inherited a mountain of debt from a profligate father who didn't know how to temper either his spending or his libido. His mother and aunt are constantly bellyaching about not having nicer things and his brother is a wastrel much like their father. When Devon is forced to marry Claire to pay off his brother's gambling debts, it's basically the last straw for him. He sees her as simply adding to his already overburdened plate, but then she surprises him by showing that she can pull her own weight and then some. She brings a much-needed light into his darkened corner of the world, and makes him feel like she really cares which is something no woman has ever done for him before. Slowly, Devon begins to lighten up and appreciate Claire's contributions. I really liked how Devon respected Claire's intelligence and knowledge of current events and how he treated her as an equal. When armed rebellion appears to be imminent, Devon makes some difficult and perhaps unfair decisions borne out of his deep-seated sense of responsibility for Claire's safety, but luckily fate had something better in store for them.
Claire is a very independent, progressive-thinking woman for her era. After the death of both her parents, she became a ward of her uncle, an unsavory man who was known for his shady business dealings. Claire became caught up in helping him with his business (although I have to admit that I either missed the finer points of how this occurred or it wasn't explained well, since she was a woman navigating a man's world). As such, she often disguised herself as a young man to avoid unwanted advances. When she carried papers to Devon from her uncle, she had no idea they would seal her fate into an arranged marriage. She doesn't want the marriage any more than Devon does, and is eager to get an annulment as soon as they receive word from her uncle that the debt has been cleared. In the meantime, she decides to make the best of it and earn her keep by taking care of Devon's home and family. Claire is talented and knowledgeable about household chores, and very intelligent in a more general sense too. She fully understands business and politics and can definitely hold her own in a discussion of either topic. The longer she stays at Devon's plantation the more clear it becomes that someone doesn't want her there. Several mysterious attempts are made on her life, but luckily, Devon is always there to save her.
The secondary characters were well-rendered, with a clear distinction between the good guys and the bad guys. All I can say is holy dysfunctional families, Batman!:-) Both Devon and Claire had some really bad apples on their family trees. Devon also had a former mistress who tried to make life miserable for Claire, but she weathered through it with grace and dignity. Devon's best friend, Edmund and his servant, Ephram, were good sounding boards for him and the voice of reason when he was being a little too stubborn. Devon's other servants, Hannah and Meg, were a mother figure and best friend respectively to Claire, offering her sage advice when she most needed it. Then there were Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee, as well as Peyton Randolph, all real members of the House of Burgesses at the time, and a brief sighting of Patrick Henry too.
There definitely aren't enough Colonial/Revolutionary War romances, so that alone made Come What May interesting to me. For those who might be concerned, Devon is a slave owner, but the issue of slavery is given a gentle touch here. Devon isn't a proponent of slavery and only owns them due to his sense of responsibility and the law forbidding him from emancipating them. The mini-mystery of who was trying to kill Claire produced some decent suspense for part of the story and ended with a few unexpected twists. At times, the writing style was a bit wordy and narrative heavy, but overall, Come What May was a good read that held my attention. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in romances set during this time period or readers who enjoy a healthy dose of history with their romance.
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