Outspoken American heiress Harriet Redgrave is undeniably bad ton. She laughs too much, rides too fast, and tends to start fires pursuing her interest in the new science of chemistry. And despite her grandfather’s matchmaking intentions to the contrary, Harriet has no interest in being wooed for her wealth.
Duncan Maclachlan, Earl of Thornton, would never marry to repair the family fortunes. Or would he? When he saves Harriet from a science experiment about to go very, very, wrong, all bets are off.
Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, November 2013
Time and Setting: 1810 London and the Scottish Highlands
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat level: 1.5
Reviewer rating: 4 stars
Review by Maria Almaguer
This is the second book in Amanda Forester’s charming series, The Marriage Mart. I read the first book, A Wedding in Springtime, last summer and was delighted by its lighthearted combination of wit, romance, and mystery, and its strong cast of secondary characters. Though not quite as funny as the first book, I still enjoyed this story very much.
There are actually two love stories in this book, besides the main romance between Harriet and Duncan. Or rather, a love story and a half, and the first book is the same way. Penelope Rose, companion to the dowager duchess of Marchford, reappears here and I was so happy to see her again. Her hilarious (and reluctant) matchmaking schemes continue at the behest of the dowager, but here the focus is on smart and sensible Penelope – finally! I have high hopes for her with the Duke of Marchford, the dowager’s serious and ambitious grandson, and Duncan’s good friend. Penelope and Marchford exchange some very playful and bold banter as they find themselves in some humorous and near-compromising situations. Forester entices us with glimpses of their love story throughout the book and I think I might almost like them even more than the main heroes and heroines. Perhaps because I’m slowly getting to know them better during the series?
I loved Harriet, the heroine of this story. She is biding her time with her grandfather and is going along with his schemes to marry her off at a country house party in Scotland until she can return to America and her family. With her direct, unpretentious and friendly manner she is, unfortunately, a natural target for the vipers of the ton who waste no time gossiping about her and putting her down. To be plain, they bully her. As a rich American heiress and granddaughter of an earl, she is funny and eccentric in her love of alchemy – a precursor to chemistry – as a hobby, yet her love of knowledge is enthusiastic and sincere. She falls in love with Duncan’s kindness to her and the way he makes her feel welcome and special; he is protective of her in the face of society’s cruelty. She also falls in love with the beautiful landscape of the Scottish Highlands. It reminds her of her country home in Massachusetts.
Our hero, Duncan, is a real sweetheart; shy and more retiring than your usual Regency hero. He is a quiet and dutiful son and a very responsible steward of his crumbling and impoverished Highland estate, trying desperately to keep it solvent in the face of his mother’s dangerous spendthrift ways. Harriet’s sincere regard and unabashed attentions make him feel like a hero; he feels he can be completely himself with her… and she likes him that way. That this surprises him is sweet.
Why they couldn’t be together, however, I didn’t quite understand, and this is why I give the book four stars instead of five. Duncan desperately needs money to save his estate but refuses to marry for money. He loves Harriet and would marry her if she was poor he would marry her, but because she has money, it turns him off. For her part, Harriet wants a man to love her for herself, not for her fortune, and wants to return to America even though she loves Duncan and Scotland. Needless to say, all is happily resolved in the end.
In a way, Duncan and Harriet are both misfits. He is reserved and introverted and she is brash and colorful. To the ton they are oddities, yet they understand and appreciate each other for the very same qualities that make them uncomfortable in high society.
The part of the book devoted to a mystery includes a spy subplot involving the Duke of Marchford with his work for the Foreign Office – a continuing thread from book one – and a connection with a jewel thief. Harriet’s alchemy experiments actually end up helping to solve both mysteries. There are also some wonderfully animated secondary characters, including the nasty Miss Crawley, Duncan’s rather flaky mother and Harriet’s grandfather, the earl.
The humor in this book is infectious; like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, it is “light and bright and sparkling.” But even though it is a very lighthearted book, it has emotional depth and feeling. It made me laugh and smile, and it’s always wonderful when a story does that.