John Raven is a successful American businessman who has traveled the world amassing wealth, but has never forgotten his Native American roots and the grandmother whose visions predicted that he would find a great love. Looking to expand his business enterprises to include coal mining and railroads, he settles in London, but he'll need to find investors. The only problem is that the wealthy aristocrats look down their noses at mere merchants like him. When his man of business suggests that he needs a wife with connections to the ton, who can introduce him to men who can help, Raven isn't thrilled with the idea. But when he chances to see a spirited young lass in the street taking on a man who is abusing his donkey and discovers that she is the daughter of a duke, he thinks he may have found the perfect woman of whom his Indian grandmother had a vision.
Lady Catherine Montfort is the only child of the "devil duke." In spite of his imperious nickname, she mostly has her father wrapped around her finger, and he's indulged her enough that she values her independence. He's given her leave to choose her own husband, but his patience is wearing thin at her seemingly dragging her feet on the matter. A man he feels would be perfect for her is right under her nose, but Catherine isn't nearly as convinced. Then Raven comes into her life with a proposition that if she marries him, he will give her free reign to do as she pleases. It's a tempting offer, but one that she is certain her father would never accept. When Raven spirits her away to show her the engagement announcement her father is publishing in the next issue of the newspaper, pairing her with the man whom she no longer wants anything to do with, Catherine has little choice but to accept the American's proposal. But in doing so has she unwittingly placed Raven in danger? Not to mention, what's a lady to do when she unexpectedly falls in love with her new husband, but they've both agreed their marriage is nothing more than a business arrangement.
I first read Raven's Vow probably close to twenty years ago, not long after it was released. It was actually one of the first books I ever reviewed. I came up with the idea of reviewing books long before book blogs became trendy, and I even found someplace to post a few of my reviews although I can't for the life of me recall where, since there were few websites of that nature at the time. The review I wrote for Raven's Vow became one of the few I posted back then, and it must have been a favorable one. I remember that part clearly, because author Gayle Wilson found the review and contacted me with a thank-you message. I've long since lost the email, but it gave me a thrill to know that an author I liked had taken notice of my work. After that, motherhood took precedence and reviewing got put on the back burner until about a decade later when I joined GoodReads and started my own review site.
When I picked up Raven's Vow for another go around, I honestly didn't recall anything about the story, just that I had liked it before. That being the case, I don't know precisely how my feelings on it from then compare to my feelings after re-reading it. I still enjoyed it, but perhaps because I've been analyzing a large number of authors' works over the past ten years and am now a writer myself, I picked up on what I would call a few small weaknesses. So while it was still good and definitely worthy of a four-star rating or perhaps slightly above four, it may not have been quite as good for me as it was the first time. But I can't be sure.
This marriage of convenience story between an untitled American businessman and the daughter of a duke, who is afraid of losing her independence if she marries someone of her own class, got off to a great start with them meeting and forming a strong attraction for one another. But it isn't until he uncovers a plot between her father and the aristocrat everyone had expected her to marry to force her into that marriage, that she agrees to the hero's proposal and they make a mad dash to Gretna Green to make it legal. This first third or so of the book is pretty fast-paced, but the middle section tended to lag a bit. This is when our heroine begins to host a string of dinner parties to help her new husband make the necessary connections to find investors for his railroad venture. But what really tended to slow it down for me was that the hero and heroine start fighting their feelings for one another. They keep making the excuse that theirs is only a marriage of convenience and the other person couldn't possibly feel the same way they do. Therefore they have no right to ask anything more of them and don't really even try to explore the romantic side of their relationship for quite a while. This made me impatient for them to just get on with it already. Finally during the last third of the book, their feelings begin to emerge and a plot against the hero's life is revealed, so things picked up again for a nice denouement.
Catherine is the only child of a duke, who mostly has her daddy wrapped around her little finger. He's given her a great deal of latitude for a young woman in high society and she's very much afraid of losing her freedom if she agrees to marry anyone of her social set. She also had one lapse in judgment, when at sixteen, she was taken in by a smooth-talking fortune hunter who got her most of the way to Gretna Green before they were caught by her father. Now at eighteen, her father is getting impatient for her to choose a suitor, but she doesn't want just anyone. Catherine is an intelligent young woman, and most of the men who would make suitable matches from a social standpoint bore her to tears. Then into her life, comes John Raven, an impertinent American businessman, who won't take no for an answer. He definitely holds her interest, but knowing that her father would never approve of such a match for his daughter, she keeps turning him down. When Raven shows her the copy for an engagement announcement between her and a man who has made it clear that he won't allow her to continue doing many of the things she's used to doing, she finally capitulates. At least, Raven has said he will give her the freedom to do as she pleases, as well as keep her in the style to which she's accustomed, so he seems like the much safer choice. She just didn't expect to fall in love with her new husband and then not know how to approach him with her feelings.
I like the way Catherine and Raven meet when she is defending a helpless donkey whose owner is beating it in the street. She was obviously an animal lover, so I dearly would have loved it if this side of her had been explored more, but this is really the only incident of note in this regard. There are a few moments early on when Catherine comes off as slightly entitled and perhaps just a tad immature, but overall I did like her. She fell for Raven even though he's nothing at all like the men she's used to being around and her quick thinking helped to save his business venture when all might have otherwise been lost. She also trusted him implicitly, staunchly defending her husband to her father, when he and everyone else thought Raven had simply disappeared with their money.
John, who is simply known as Raven throughout most of the story, is one-quarter Native American and that part of his heritage, particularly his grandmother's teachings, plays a part in the story. But mostly he's a very successful and wealthy businessman who has traveled the world and is now looking to start a coal mining and railroad business in England. Unfortunately, without the proper entrée into society to find the needed investors, his venture is dead in the water until his man of business suggests that he needs a society wife with the proper connections. When Raven sees Catherine defending the donkey, he knows her fiery spirit is just what he needs and wants, so he approaches her with a proposal: she can have the freedom she craves in exchange for helping him. It takes some doing to convince her to marry him, but once she does and he gets to know her even better, he becomes convinced that she is the woman his grandmother told him of from one of her visions. He gradually begins to fall for Catherine, but doesn't think he has a right to ask anything more from her than their original contract specified.
I really liked Raven a lot. Although he probably could have stepped up his efforts at wooing Catherine a little sooner, I liked that he took things a bit slower and wanted to genuinely romance his wife. I also very much liked that he fully trusted her. Even when he found her in a state of dishabille at the home of her former suitor, he took her at her word that she'd been assaulted and defended her honor, never really questioning why she was there in the first place. He got major brownie points from me for that.:-) I also couldn't help but like his determination to get back to Catherine when he was abducted and nearly killed. Raven was just an all-around great guy.
If not for that slow middle section, Raven's Vow probably would have earned permanent keeper status from me, but even still, it was a pretty good re-read. Except for a few minor flaws, I very much liked the hero and heroine. There aren't many stand-out supporting characters to speak of, just Catherine's father and her former suitor who stir up a bit of conflict for our lovebirds. Overall, the romance was heartfelt with some lovely sensuality when they finally reach that point in their relationship, although it maybe took just a little too long to get there. Otherwise, I can't think of any other complaints. The writing itself was strong, and it was a nicely constructed story. In fact, I'd say that it now has a slight edge as my favorite of Gayle Wilson's books I've read to date.
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