Miss Winthorpe's Elopement by Christine Merrill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After I read a short story by Ms. Merrill, I knew she'd be an author I wanted to read more of. And Miss Winthorpe's Engagement has validated that decision.
I appreciate the bluestocking/spinster theme very much, and as a booklover, how could I not adore Penelope? All she wants is to enjoy her spinsterhood and indulge her love of books, and as a considerable heiress, she has plenty of funds to do so. Unfortunately, her brother has decided that she spends too much money on books, when she has plenty of them already. When he puts his foot down, stating that she will do as he says regarding her finances and how she spends her time, unless she has a husband to control them for her, what's a girl to do?
Being an intelligent person who is tired of being under her less intelligent brother's thumb, she decides she's going to find herself a husband. Serendipitously, Adam, Duke of Bellston, is about to end his life, so he can save the dukedom from ruination at his lately unfortunate hands. Fate decrees that he throw himself in front of Penelope's carriage. And Fate has determined that he won't die, but fall right into Penelope's husband-needing hands. Penelope realizes that he's the answer to her prayers. She continues to ply him with brandy as they elope to Gretna Green. They marry, and Adam wakes up the next morning to a blinding headache, and being told by Penelope's servant Jem, that he is married to Penelope, who is an enormous heiress, even though she's a tradesman's daughter. Although at first, Adam is shocked that he's now married far beneath him, and to a bluestocking, his honor decrees that he cannot just forget he married her and tear up the document they both signed to that effect. They make a deal to stay married, and Penelope will give him the money he needs to save his estate from ruin, and he'll let her go about her way, and leave her to her books. But they both realize that their comfortable marriage turns out to be have much more meaning for them both.
This book was so very good. It was entertaining and readable, but also filled with hidden depths of emotion. Penelope had retreated to her books to save herself from the hurt that a disastrous Season had brought her. She had never desired to feel a man's touch or to be the object of a man's desire and love. But Adam awakens that part of her, much to her pain, but ultimate pleasure. Adam is a brilliant politician, but pretty good at making messes of his personal life. He has to live with regrets about what his reckless actions wrought on his family home, his friendship, and his brother. And Adam finds himself falling deeply in love with his wife, and coming to admire and respect her for who she is.
The chemistry between Penelope and Adam was well done, building steadily to an intense fire that made their love scenes very good reading. And the emotional honesty between them really adds to the fulfillment of reading this book. Penelope has to find her way in Adam's treacherous world, where friends are more like frenemies, and a friend's wife is trying to get her claws back into Penelope's husband. Adam made a huge mistake, but the way this book is written, you can't hold it against him. He's suffered for it, and his remorse is very obvious. And he's more than willing to face the music, but can't stand the thought of losing the wife he's come to love very deeply. Although it's a bit hypocritical in light of what he did in the past, I thought his jealousy over his wife and how it spurred him on to make his marriage with Penelope real, rather endearing. It was a real pleasure to see this match of expedience turn into one that is full of love and devotion.
This book is a real gem. I am very glad that I did get the chance to read it, and I can't wait to read more from this talented author.
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