Mills & Boon, £5.99, ISBN 978-0-263-26880-5
Historical Romance, 2018
Conall Everard, who has been Viscount Taunton for a year now since the death of his beloved father, has the heart of the entrepreneur. While his father decimated their family fortunes in a series of bad business investments, our hero has surveyed his lands and decided that breeding alpacas and selling off their wool as a luxurious alternative to sheep wool would replenish the family coffers. However, he needs cash to make things happen, and he rather foolishly has purchased those alpacas with his own money first. He needs money ASAP, but unfortunately, the members of the Prometheus Club – the Illuminati of sorts for investors – with one exception have decided against pouring money into his venture. The banks have all turned down his applications for a loan. The sole member who voted in favor of him is one Phillip Barnham.
He learns from his father’s old friend, the Duke of Cowden, that Barnham is actually a pseudonym for La Marchesa di Cremona, a woman who has to mask her identity in order to play the investment game with the rest of the Prometheus Club. As luck would have it, La Marchesa is an old friend of Cowden’s daughter-in-law, and she is in town to attend the wedding of Cowden’s son. As you can guess, the woman is striking, beautiful, and spirited, and soon Conall is hankering for her honey as well as her money. But our heroine comes with a heavy baggage.
Sofia Northcutt, La Merchesa in question, is a divorced woman. This marks her as a social pariah, and indeed, were not for her friendship with the daughter-in-law of the Duke of Cowden, she wouldn’t even be in town. Her ex-husband was an abusive POS, but even with her being divorced from him for three years now, he is still haunting her. You see, he is a powerful nobleman in the Kingdom of Piedmont. The old king sanctioned the divorce, but there is a new king on the throne now, and this king decides that he really doesn’t like the idea of his buddy being divorced from Sofia, and offers the man a nice sum of money if he could persuade her to marry him again. No way will she go back to him, of course, but Giancarlo Bianchi doesn’t take no as an answer from any woman.
Therefore, Sofia wants to visit Conall’s holdings in Somerset not only because she wants to inspect his plans and facilities – she also wants to travel to a place where she can lay low and away from her ex-husband’s persistent efforts to locate her. All this while, she has been amassing money in order to give herself a much-needed leverage against him as well as to establish a new life for herself. She is not going to let Giancarlo destroy her second chance at happiness. But you know he will catch up with her eventually…
A Marriage Deal with the Viscount – which is a terrible and inaccurate title – sees the author in almost her top form, and for a long time, the result is magical. Conall is a nice change from the usual whiny rakes that breed like rabbits in this genre: he is a responsible fellow who is resigned to giving up his personal dreams and wants to establish a stable foundation for his family as well as the tenants of his lands. Once, he wants to marry for love, but now… he’d take what he can get, let’s just say. Sofia is in many ways his perfect match. While her predicament is far more tragic than his, she understands his feelings and circumstances well, as she too once dreamed of love and now she’d settle for some inner peace and a freedom to live as she wishes.
It’s impressive how the author masterfully sets up her story to show me just how much her characters are made for one another. For example, during the wedding, the author allows me to glimpse into the heads of both characters, to know what they are thinking as they look at the happy couple. She allows me to make the connection – here are two very lonely characters who are trapped by their own disillusionment when it comes to love, and without beating me in the head with the obvious, the author lets me see for myself just how similar Conall and Sofia can be. Therefore, when Conall takes a seat next to Sofia and she looks at him in surprise, I stop breathing for a second as I imagine for a moment just how much faster these characters’ hearts must be beating at that instance of connection. That’s the beauty of this story: the author tells a story with words, but she does it in such a way that I can picture vividly the emotions experienced by her characters. My imagination is inspired by these words to go to wonderful places.
Also, the baggage that comes with Sofia’s utterly damaged goods status is very real. Both characters know this, and they know of the risks, and hence, their developing feelings for one another feel more precious as a result.
Another plus is how Sofia is allowed to be an analytical person with a keen head for business without any apologies or concessions made to make Conall look smarter in comparison. There is no informed attribute when it comes to this character. When the author tells me that Sofia is smart, why yes, our heroine is just that.
So why isn’t this one a five-oogie celebration? It’s the late quarter or so of this story, when everything falls apart so spectacularly that I have to put the book down because it hurts to keep reading from that point. The whole thing turns into a Looney Tunes episode with Giancarlo pulling a Wile E Coyote act, which is already terrible, but worst of all, Sofia becomes 3,000% more dumb dumb when she decides that Conall must have married her for her money. Let’s see, if he wants a rich wife, he could have married anyone that didn’t have the baggage of a divorcée shunned by nearly every member of Polite Society, especially when he has siblings yet to make their debut. Conall must be mad to marry her solely for her money, and she must be even more mad to assume, after everything Conall has done for her and said to her, that he just wants her money. What is all this nonsense? Did the author run out of plot and had to resort to all this character-breaking nonsense to pad the pages? Whatever the reason, the late parts of this story kill the whole thing and break my heart into tiny pieces.
I’m tempted to give this story one oogie out of pettiness, to pay the author back for shattering my heart so badly after filling it with so much indelible feels, but in the end, I suppose I ought to be fair. When this story is so, so, so good, I feel like dancing on air while watching Conall and Sofia fall in love. And when it’s not… ugh. It’s like falling in love with the perfect guy after a wonderful whirlwind courtship, only to realize on the honeymoon night that he has a severe case of erectile dysfunction. It hurts so much, and the author is so cruel in this instance.
Still, I have a time of my time during the first two-thirds or so of A Marriage Deal with the Viscount, and for that, here are my four oogies. For the love of all that is good and holy, please don’t let the author put me through such a wringer again.