“I have a proposal for you…”
The last place respectable governess Ianthe Holt ever expected to be proposed to was in a train carriage…by a stranger…who had just accused her of trying to trap another man into marriage!
Shipping magnate Robert Felstone may be dashing, but he’s also insufferable, impertinent–and Ianthe’s only possible savior from her uncertain fate. She’s hesitant to play the perfect Felstone wife, but Robert soon shows Ianthe there’s more to him than meets the eye, and more to marriage than vows…
Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, June 2017
Time and Setting: Whitby, England 1865
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars
Review by Em
The Convenient Felstone Marriage, set in the small town of Whitby, on the Yorkshire coast, is a refreshing change from most of the historical romance I read. I liked the premise of the story and how Ms. Fletcher orchestrates a relationship between the principals, but unfortunately, once she delivers ‘the convenient Felstone marriage,’ the middle section lags and the ending is overly dramatic. I might have been more forgiving had I liked our heroine a bit more, but she became less likeable as the story progressed and I had a hard time rooting for her. Though the book is entertaining and Ms. Fletcher’s writing is strong, I liked the idea of this story more than the execution of it.
Ianthe Holt is frustrated, annoyed and desperate. Since the death of her beloved mother from consumption a year ago and her father’s grief stricken death not long after, her life has unraveled. Things go from bad to worse when her brother, Percy, tells her he hopes Ianthe will accept an offer of marriage from Sir Charles Lester, a man thirty years her senior and whose unnerving, creepy interest in her has always made her uncomfortable. After a heated argument aboard the train in which they are traveling to Yorkshire, Percy can’t seem to understand why she won’t accept Sir Charles – and Ianthe waits for him to return to their compartment for the last leg of the journey.
After pretending to be asleep as the brother and sister argued – loudly – in their shared compartment Robert Felstone is disturbed, enraged and unwilling to remain quiet. What he overheard leads him to believe the woman is planning to trick a man into marriage, but when he accuses her of same, she surprises him with a fiery defense of her behavior. It quickly becomes clear to Robert the situation isn’t quite what it appeared, and when he discovers who the intended groom is – the lecherous Sir Charles Lester – he revisits his first impression of his angry companion. Compared to the beautiful woman who refused his offer of marriage earlier that morning because he wasn’t good enough for her, this woman is dowdy and severe. But Robert, after his rejection, isn’t looking for a love match. He needs a wife, she needs a husband – perhaps they can help each other.
Percy’s return to the train compartment interrupts the conversation between Ianthe and Robert. Before he arrives, Ianthe makes it clear to Robert that she finds his behavior offensive – he called her a schemer and then asked her to marry him! – and turns him down. But after Percy introduces himself – and his sister – Robert finds himself disliking the brother, and curious about Ianthe. Despite her earlier rejection, Robert decides to persevere in his pursuit of Miss Holt (he can’t quite figure out why) and he invites the pair to a ball that evening.
Ianthe has no intention of attending the ball, but events (and the author) conspire to get her there. The evening represents a crossroads of sorts, and Ms. Fletcher deftly uses it to position and define how profoundly the the men in Ianthe’s life shape her future: Percy, her brother, whose fortune (or lack thereof) is linked to the card table. He selfishly wagers Ianthe’s future to save his own; Sir Charles, her obsessed hunter, stalks Ianthe, unwilling to allow anything or anyone to come between him and his prey; and Robert, the bastard son who’s succeeded despite a scandalous beginning, her savior, who doesn’t believe in love – but falls for Ianthe despite his best effort not to.
Ianthe is a polarizing figure. Though it’s easy to sympathize with her for the tough choices she’s had to make since her parents’ deaths, her decision making process is odd, and I struggled to like her through the middle portion of the book. She persists in refusing to marry Robert even though she is attracted to him, and knowing that the smarmy Sir Charles is lurking in the background; and once she does agree, she lets a past indiscretion assume such mountainous proportions that it threatens to wreck their fledgling relationship. Despite her resolve to be the respectable bride he desires, her secrets prevent her from finding any happiness in her marriage. From this point on, the marriage of convenience trope gives way to my least favorite trope of all – the BIG Misunderstanding. Ianthe persists in keeping her past from Robert, even when it’s apparent he’s trying to make more of their marriage than the business agreement they initially agreed to. We spend chapter after chapter hoping Ianthe will finally come clean but when she does, it’s in the frenetic closing chapters, and only after she’s forced to do so. I didn’t like her dishonesty and though I rooted for her and Robert, I disliked her character by the time the story concluded.
I liked Robert from the moment we meet him, but he’s not perfect either. He has a quick temper and despite his wealth, power and success, he’s insecure. The bastard son of a lecherous lord with grabby hands for his household staff, he was raised by a single mother who both loved and resented him. He’s managed to rise above the unfortunate circumstances of his birth, but his relationship with his now dead father still has the power to hurt him, and high society still snubs him. Those flaws only made me like him more, and though I admired his willingness to persevere in the face of Ianthe’s hot/cold behavior and her secrets (he knows she has them, he just doesn’t know what they are), it doesn’t ring true to his character. He’s a tough and ambitious businessman with good instincts and I’m forced to conclude it’s his physical response that carries the day – because with all her baggage – she’s hard to love.
I was entertained by The Convenient Felstone Marriage, but my increasing dislike of the heroine, spoiled my enjoyment of the story as a whole. I think Ms. Fletcher is a strong writer and I liked the premise of the story, I only wish she spent more time developing the principals and their relationship and less on the Big Misunderstanding that keeps them apart – a big turn-off for this romance reader.