Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29812-9
Historical Romance, 2014
Our heroine, Ainsley McBrayne, and our hero Innes Drummond meet at a lawyer’s office for the first time, and they decide to get married after exchanging sad stories. No, this is not love at first sight, although they do notice how attractive the other person is. Ainsley is a widow whose funds are barred from her by her late father’s will, until she gets married and produces a child, and in the meantime her late husband left her a pile of debts. Innes was estranged from his late father, the laird of Stone Bridge, and now that man’s will dictates that Innes get married in order to inherit the lands and money. Marrying one another makes sense – they won’t impose, they won’t curtail the other person’s freedom, so everyone wins. They have to spend some time pretending to be really married, at least, at his place, and that is when the complications start.
Strangers at the Altar could have been easily resolved by page 50 if both characters are sensible. The plan is sound, so the author needs a reason to keep things going for as long as they do. Unfortunately, she decides to do this by having the heroine play the moaning mess to every single thing in her way. Ainsley talks a lot about being a strong and determined woman, but my goodness, I have never seen someone who is so determined to be the victim that she grasps at straws like they are diamonds being given out for free.
It all begins when she wastes a few pages desperately insisting that the marriage thing is crazy because she wants to be independent and she doesn’t want to be indebted to any man ever. I may respect her if she sticks by her moaning act, but of course she goes ahead and marries him anyway. That’s when she intensifies the whole “I am doomed to be unhappy so I must immolate myself!” act. Oh, he is above her in terms of social station, so he will never love her. He must surely love another person, so she is doomed to be unhappy, and she must try to make him happy even if this makes her even more unhappy because she loves him and she owes him. Oh, and because she treats this arrangement like some kind of pity gesture from him (when in truth, it’s for his benefit as much as hers), every kind or loving gesture from him has to be interpreted as a payment or a charitable act. There is no way, according to her, that he can ever care for her. Ever. Why? She just knows.
She interprets practically everything that happens around her to be a negative, a strike against her or an affirmation of her flaw, to the point that I can understand why her late husband didn’t want to shag her. Who wants to shag such an insecure professional victim? It had to be tiring to constantly have to assure and reassure her even she walks around proclaiming that she is a strong and independent woman. Seriously, no wonder the late husband wasted all the dough. If I were he and I was married to Ainsley, I’d probably spend all the money getting wasted.
As a result of Ainsley acting like she’s the vilest plague to ever hit human civilization, Innes ends up second-guessing their relationship too, and the whole story turns into a joyless merry-go-round of two people trying their very best to be noble without actually communicating to find out whether there is any need to be noble in the first place. What annoys me here is not the merry-go-round itself, but the fact that the whole thing is just pointless and, worse, interminable. It goes on all the way to last few pages of this story!
This is the second book in a row from Marguerite Kaye – an author that I am unfamiliar with on the whole – where she has her heroines trumpeting their strength and willpower only to have those heroines turn out to be emotionally needy and pathetic little wretches who need constant assurances from their men. For the sake of my blood pressure, I hope this is not a signature pattern of the author’s books.