Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29800-6
Historical Romance, 2014
Mary Carpenter is a young lady who has fallen on hard times. Her parents were dead, and she currently depends on the charity of her aunt, who plans to introduce her to some nice stable guy that she can get married to. Trouble is, the pickings are slim for a plain lady without any significant dowry in her name. Imagine her surprise when Lord Havelock genuinely and, if his kisses are anything to go by, ardently wants her to be his wife. She is very aware that their marriage is supposed to be one of those proper and respectful types, with separate bedrooms and what not, but the passion between them is… exciting. Also, marrying Lord Havelock would allow her some financial independence from her aunt, who would then be free to focus on the future of her own two daughters. Lord Havelock doesn’t seem like Mary’s abusive late father, so yes, Mary thinks that this is one marriage that would work out for the best.
That is, until she discovers on her wedding night a list accidentally left out there in the open by her husband. It turns out that her husband had discussed matrimony with his friends, and they came up with this list of ideal traits Lord Havelock’s wife should have: mousy, preferably an orphan, has no money, maybe a little brainy (he can’t abide dumb women and he doesn’t want dumb kids), and… and… Well, let’s just say that Mary realizes that he married her because she fits his list perfectly.
She knows that they’re supposed to be married out of practicality. She doesn’t expect love. But this… that he has discussed her with his friends, evaluated her like some horse they are looking to purchase – what a mortifying picture. All her demons – related to her unpleasant father and the way the man treated his wife – come back to haunt her full force, and she wonders whether she has misjudged her husband when she thought he’d be a pleasant man to be a wife to. Oh, what will happen now to these two?
Lord Havelock’s List is an interesting story because it has a familiar premise – a heroine wanting some kind of confirmation that the man she is married to would be good to her – but without making the heroine come off like a complete flake. Usually, in most stories of this kind, the heroine would initially talk about how she doesn’t believe in love, only to do a complete 180 when she falls for the hero and blames him for not reciprocating her affections when the initial agreement was that they married for convenience. Here, however, Mary does know that love is never supposed to be in the picture, and in a refreshing change of pace, is angry at herself for falling in love with her husband. But that comes later. When she first discovers her list, she’s angry not because he doesn’t love her, but because… well, who wouldn’t be humiliated in her shoes?
Nonetheless, she does try to look for positive signs that Lord Havelock is a good man. I like this part of Mary. She’s smart, she’s aware, and she doesn’t blame other people for things not going her way. She also tries to do things to make everything better instead of playing the victim or the martyr, and she doesn’t take crap from other people. Mary manages to be an intelligent heroine without coming off as too modern to me – I really like this.
Lord Havelock may look like the standard hot hero, but he’s also very awkward when it comes to women. He doesn’t have much social grace or roguish charm – he speaks his mind often when he shouldn’t, and is so set in his ways that sometimes he behave thoughtlessly because he is so used to being a bachelor. Indeed, one of his requirements for a wife is a mousy one who wouldn’t insist that he change his life to accommodate her. Initially, he likes that Mary seems to fit all his criteria in a wife and they are so good in bed together, but he soon realizes that he likes Mary more than he thought he would, and she’s soon not just Mary, the wife, but his Mary. I am actually in awe of how the author manages to make such a hero adorable rather than cringe-inducing, especially since Lord Havelock often has the social grace of an elephant. To his credit, he too is self aware and quickly realizes what he has done each time he inadvertently hurts his wife’s feelings.
The problem here is that he really doesn’t know how to do that charming husband thing, even if he wants to, while she is haunted by fears that this marriage would end up just like her parents’, so they often jump into wrong conclusions about one another or just skirt around in circles instead of just reaching out to talk or have make-up sex.
Annie Burrows has served a story about a couple who only realize just how much the other person is a stranger after they get married, and finding out more about the other person leads to both trepidation and joy. I get a kick out of how the issues these two face are ones that any couple in the early stages of a long-term relationship can relate to. It is all fun and games, until you live together and discover all those habits and quirks that never came into the picture during the dating phase, and how these habits and quirks can be annoying and even irritating – that kind of thing. In this case, Mary has some inner demons to contend with, so the issue is a bit more heavy than discovering that the other person never replaces the cap of the toothpaste. Despite the issues, the story manages to retain a very nice balance of lighthearted moments and more emotional scenes, with the bonus of some unexpectedly erotic love scenes that see Mary really getting into it without feeling any guilt or concerns that she is no longer a “lady”.
I have never read anything from this author before this book, so it’s such a lovely surprise to find that Lord Havelock’s List is full of wonderful things.