Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-81652-0
Historical Romance, 2002
Too Wicked to Marry is a sweet, fun story of my favorite sorts: spies and masquerades. Alas, if only this is a novella, because while a 100-paged story would have been a keeper, a 375-paged one is an exercise in exponentially decreasing fun factor. By the last page, while I am not as enthusiastic as I was at page 25.
Martin Kestrel realizes that he is in love with his daughter’s governess of four years, Abigail Perry. They met under unusual circumstances, and over the years, trade barbs and laughter so much that he has no idea how much she has gotten under his skin until a casual remark by his godmother sets him off. He races off to propose, sure that Abigail would swoon in his arms.
Uh, not quite. She is not at all amenable to the idea. Worse, she disappears when he is not looking! Where can she be?
Actually, Abigail is a spy working for the Crown. Her real name is Harriet McLeod, and she has fled to her family of spies, forgers, saboteurs, and soldiers in Scotland. Martin, however, pursues her relentlessly (“I have hunted for you, before, and found you. Do you think I won’t do it again?”) and finds her, only to discover that oops, she’s actually Harriet the Spy.
Ouch. He is not happy, because he has been used, just like he has been used by his faithless wife Sabine!
I tell you, if the story has ended when Martin finds Harriet, I would have walk away in high notes and give this book a keeper grade. Until this point, this story is everything lovely and sunny about romance: a surly rake realizing that he is in love with that lovely woman who has been his emotional anchor for years, that kind of thing.
But Martin’s reaction to Harriet’s story seems excessive to me. I mean, he really hits the roof. But fine, I’m okay with it. What I’m not okay is the author then using an old and tired premise to force the two together again: she needs him to play her fake beau in some secret mission. What ensues is the usual same old tired “let’s keep it platonic, no, oh yes, no, oh yes…” routine.
And for a spy, why is Harriet so much a doormat? Gosh, she keeps protesting and saying no, but Martin leads her around in circles anyway. For a spy, she is too overemotional and honest. Maybe when she makes up her mind whether to be a spy or a Regency bluestocking ninny, call me. Until then, Abigail Perry is a far more interesting person than Harriet McLeod.
Nonetheless, the heroine’s family is a scream, and so’s Martin, a perfect blend of surliness, (failed) rakishness, and charming romanticism. His banters with Harriet, cantankerous, funny, and often filled with reluctant impulse to indulge the woman, are also just right, so right.
It’s just too bad that as the story progresses, the heroine and the plot degenerate into familiar and mediocre territory soon enough. I finish the last page feeling pleased somewhat, and also relieved that the story has ended. Because if it goes on, who knows, I may just end up feeling really cheated by the whole promising beginning.