Lady Gwendolyn Townsend watched her father's title and estate, the only home she'd ever known, go to a distant cousin upon his death. Told by her father's solicitor that she was penniless and bitter that a woman couldn't inherit, she packed her bags and moved to America to become a governess. She wasn't very good at it. Not to mention, some of her employers were all to eager to seduce her, so she found it necessary to move on often. Four years later, the solicitor finally located her to say that a huge mistake had been made. Gwen's father did, in fact, leave her a house and a modest income that would support her for the rest of her life, and if she's willing to marry a man she's never met, she will also come into a small fortune. Though he's a stranger, the man in question leaves her oddly breathless in his presence, but Gwen has too much baggage surrounding the issue of marriage and has no intention of entering into matrimony, until she learns that the three daughters of her much older sister she barely knew have lost their parents and are in need of care. Since her small income will not be enough to support four people, she finds that she really has no other choice but to agree to the match.
Marcus Holcroft, the Earl of Pennington, hasn't really had his sights set on marriage either. Having two ladies leave him for other men hasn't left him particularly enamored of the idea, but when he learns that he'll lose his entire fortune if he doesn't marry Gwen by his thirtieth birthday in three months, he has little choice in the matter. Upon meeting Gwen and seeing how lovely she is, he knows he could do far worse, so he soon warms up to the idea, and when she exhibits reluctance, he's ready to do everything he can to convince her they'd be a good match. But when she acquiesces far too quickly, Marcus can't help wondering if the lady is hiding something. However, with them getting on well both inside and outside the bedroom, he shrugs it off until his best friend spots Gwen entering the dowager house on the estate with another gentleman. At this point, Marcus is all but certain that something strange is afoot, leaving him more determined than ever to uncover her secrets.
Six books into Victoria Alexander's Effington Family & Friends series, I can say that I've found some enjoyment in each of the books so far, but I've also found weaknesses that have kept all but one of the books from receiving keeper status from me. Love with the Proper Husband is one of the better books in that I really liked the hero, generally liked the heroine, except for one unwise decision she makes, and found their love to be sweet and heartfelt, if a little quick in coming about. However, on the downside, the plot certainly could have been stronger, especially in the details, and some of Ms. Alexander's writing quirks that can be a bit annoying were also present in this story. That said, though, I did mostly enjoy the book, in part, because I could feel a connection between the hero and heroine. So while it was far from perfect, when compared to the other books in the series, I felt that a four-star rating made sense, because I liked it about as well as the one other book I gave four stars to, and slightly better than the ones I gave 3.5 stars to.
Love with the Proper Husband begins with a group of aristocratic mamas meeting to discuss their children's seeming disinterest in marrying, particularly their male children, who need to find wives to carry on the family lines. They agree to work together to change this state of affairs, even if they have to meddle in their children's lives to do it. Our hero's mother is among them, so we know that when both he and the heroine receive unexpected news that their fathers had arranged years ago for them to be married if the hero hadn't chosen a bride by his thirtieth birthday, it's obvious that his mama somehow had a hand in this revelation. However the hero and heroine are both oblivious to this fact until the end of the story, and we don't know exactly how she pulled it off until then either.
Gwendolyn has been out of the country for a few years. The only family she had left was her father, but he died when she was sixteen and since he had no male heirs, a very distant cousin took over the title and the estate that she'd called home all her life. She was bitter that as a woman she couldn't inherit, and her father's solicitor told her she was basically left penniless, so she decided to simply run away from her problem, a tact that she's continued to use for most of her adult life. She managed to find a position as a governess in America, but she's not particularly fond of children and wasn't very good at it. Not to mention, some of her charges' fathers made unwanted advances toward her, so in four short years, she's held several different positions. When Gwen receives word from her father's solicitor, she returns to England immediately to find, much to her surprise, that a mistake was made and that her father did indeed make provisions for her. She has a house and a modest income on which she could live for the rest of her life, and if she's willing to marry a man she's never met, she will come into a fortune. After watching her mother die trying to give her father the desired heir and having married men pawing at her, Gwen has little use for the institution of marriage, so simply taking the house and the income sounds good to her, until she also discovers that she's been placed in charge of her three nieces who've just lost their parents. After meeting the girls she can't leave them with her distant cousin who clearly doesn't want them around. She knows what it feels like to be unwanted as a female, so she's compelled to give them a loving home. Unfortunately, the modest income won't be enough to support four people, so she reluctantly agrees to the marriage.
Overall, I liked Gwen and felt like I understood her most of the time. The men in her life failed her by not valuing her for no other reason than because she's female, so it made sense that she would have trouble trusting Marcus at first. She takes quite a while before revealing the existence of the girls to him, but I understood that it was out of fear that he wouldn't accept them or would make them feel "less than." I did like that she gradually comes around, though, and that she recognizes that Marcus is indeed a good man. I also like that while Gwen was a little trepidatious on their wedding night and things started out pretty humorously that she warmed up to her new husband very quickly and that she was always welcoming of his love-making, especially when she found out how enjoyable it could be. However, she's extremely reluctant to say that she's fallen in love with him. Again, though, she slowly comes around. So the only thing about her that gave me pause is when she decided to run away again when problems arise near the end of the book. When characters have issues like this, I like to see them change and grow throughout the story, so when she reverted back to her old MO, I found myself a little disappointed in her.
I really loved Marcus. He's been hurt in the past by a couple of women who broke off their relationship with him when they became involved with someone else, so he hasn't been particularly eager to give his heart to someone again. Not to mention, he's always been something of a romantic, who thought he would marry for love. However, when he receives the news that he must either marry Gwen by his thirtieth birthday, which is mere months away, or forfeit his fortune, he tries to put things in perspective. If it were just himself, he didn't really care if he lost his money, but since he has his mother and his tenants to look after, he figures he'd better do as he's been told. After meeting Gwen, he knows he could do a lot worse, so even though the lady is reluctant, Marcus vows to persuade her before the deadline. He's just surprised when she's the one who comes back to him. He eventually begins to wonder why that is but doesn't think too much of it until his best friend spots her entering the dowager house on his estate with another man. Then the lovers who jilted him come back to haunt him a little as he wonders if she's stepping out on him. Luckily his reservations don't last long, though. Generally speaking, Marcus is a very trusting and understanding man who gives Gwen a great deal of latitude with her independence. He's also the first to say, "I love you" and is quite patient while waiting for her to return his affection. Overall, he was pretty much the perfect man, so I had absolutely no issues with him at all.
Since I loved the hero and mostly liked the heroine, the main reason I knocked off a star is for the plotting and the writing. The plot of the story is on the weak side. For as long as the book is, I felt like there wasn't enough actual story to fill the pages. It probably could have been pared down quite a bit and still hit all the major plot points, and that's because there's a lot of filler dialogue that doesn't really advance the plot like it should. Although I could definitely feel the love connection between Marcus and Gwen, it comes about with little thought or fanfare. They just happen to be quite well-suited and don't encounter a whole lot of problems in this area, which is OK, albeit a bit bland. The sexual tension is well done, though, as are the couple of love scenes. However, the other thing that really drove me to distraction was the author's extreme overuse of the phrase, "blew a long breath" or some derivative thereof to indicate someone sighing. Also she has a penchant for having the characters ask two word rhetorical questions such as, "Am I?," "Did I?," "Are you?," etc. I think they were meant to be cute, but they just about drove me batty. I could have played a drinking game with these phrases and gotten quite foxed.;-)
Overall, since the characters were pretty likable and I could feel the romantic connection between the hero and heroine, I generally liked Love with the Proper Husband. It may not have been perfect, but I've read far worse. I liked Gwen's nieces who each had their own age-appropriate personalities, as well as her two good friends Madames Freneau and de Chabot, who are like older sisters, offering her unconditional love, support and sage advice. Marcus's best friend, Reggie, came off in a much better light in this story than he did in one of the previous books of the series in which he appeared. He'll become the hero of book #8, The Pursuit of Marriage. While some things could have been better, I liked the book overall and will probably continue with the series for now.
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