Avon Impulse, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-268580-3
Historical Romance, 2018
I’d like to think of myself as a new fan of this author, but I am starting to wonder at this point. Any Groom Will Do, the first in a new series called The Brides of Belgravia, seems to be a regression rather than the way forward. If anything, this one feels too much like a shorter story that has been padded to its current length.
Lady Wilhelmina Joy Hunnicut, or Willow, knows that she can never has children, thanks to a near-fatal brush with peritonitis during her childhood. Still, it’s not completely darkness and despair in her life, as she has big dreams for herself. She wants to study architecture and build a life for herself designing houses. Her aunt has agreed to take her in should she travel to London for her studies. Unfortunately, Willow soon realizes that as an unmarried young woman, she faces many limitations. She can’t do this without her late father’s permission, she can’t do that without her brother vouching for her, and her mother disapproves of her plans and will never permit her to leave her Surrey home for London. If only she has a husband…
Well, that’s it! As a married woman, she will have more opportunities to do her thing! So, she will put out an advertisement – discreetly worded, of course – for gentlemen looking for investors for their ventures. What she plans is to offer her substantial dowry of £60,000 to a gentleman, for the man to use as he pleases, so long as he agrees to stay away and let her do whatever she wants to do. He gets money, she gets the freedom, and everyone wins!
Brent Caulder, the Earl of Cassin, needs money. As one of three partners who have come to own an island in Barbados (they got lucky in a card game), he is hoping to get some investors to fund their efforts to develop the island into some tourist spot. As the only nobleman in the partnership, his role is to use his title to draw in the investors, so he’s starting to feel the pressure. Then the ad arrives, and instead of writing to “WJ Hunnicut” like the ad requests, he heads off to Surrey to meet that fellow.
What happens is the usual marriage of convenience that turns into a genuine romantic entanglement, but my problem with Any Groom Will Do is that it takes way too long to go anywhere. This is a story that is a bit longer than a category romance but a bit shorter than a full length novel, but my goodness, at the halfway point, these two aren’t even married yet! What happens is that the author has the characters in her story talk and talk and talk, often rehashing the same things over and over, to the point that it seems as if the author had no idea how to progress the story and were just filling pages with conversations until inspiration struck.
The first interview between Willow and Cassin, for example, goes on for page after page, and it ends up making both of them look rather dim. Instead of talking business, they talk over one another when they are not trying to antagonize the other person. Why? I have no idea. I’d think Cassin will at least consider the arrangement if he is that desperate for money, but instead, he keeps calling Willow crazy and accusing her of trying to pull a scam. Shouldn’t he at least ask for evidence that the dowry exists first instead of assuming that it doesn’t? He also gets angry and defensive when Willow understandably tries to get some details about his venture, when I’d think he’d at least try to make a good case to as to why she should invest her money in his company. I mean, even if he doesn’t want to marry her, why not try to get her to part with her money anyway, since she’s perfectly willing to do so, by being some kind of silent investor? Cassin really comes off as a bad businessman here, and I’m sure that is never the author’s intention to make him seem that way.
As for Willow, the fact that she doesn’t immediately dismiss this fellow when he can’t give details of his business ventures and is generally defensive for no good reason – well, that makes her seem more gullible than I’d have liked.
This is a typical problem that plagues a large chunk of this story – characters just keep talking and disagreeing without any good reason, coming off as dumb dumbs as a result. Later in the story, Willow will be the one that gets unnecessarily defensive and confrontational when Cassin presses her for details about her ventures, and these two proceed to take turns at generating all kinds of artificial disagreements.
Meanwhile, the marriage itself isn’t much of a conflict, as these two are obviously too fond of one another to ever go separate ways. Even the matter of her never being able to have children is never an issue with Cassin. It is very obvious from early on that he adores her for all of what she is. So, the bulk of the conflicts in this story are all these fake, short misunderstanding and disagreements stemming from petulant, out of character tantrums. The whole thing is like a cautionary tale against talking too much. Oh, and there is also Cassin’s disagreeable uncle trying to cause trouble, but this guy also shows up pretty abruptly. All in all, many of the conflicts in this story feel like they are thrown in just to keep the story going.
On the plus side, there is no magic pregnancy here, so thank goodness for that.
Any Groom Will Do becomes a far more interesting read during its last few chapters, when things move at a rollicking pace and the main characters start to show that they can be level-headed and smart people. Also, Cassin really has a way with declarations of love. Come to think of it, the best parts of this book are those chapters and the first few ones. Hence, my suspicion that this is a shorter story that has been forcibly stretched into its current length. If we have excised much of the mundane, throwaway drama plaguing the middle parts of this book, the result would be a far more enjoyable read.