SUMMARY (*includes spoilers*):
[1591, England] Sir Edmund Blackwell entered into a wager with his friend, Sir Alex Thornton (occurs at the beginning of His Scandal) and though all he had to get was a kiss, he ended up sleeping with the young woman and as a result offered to marry her. This book takes place a couple of years later, after Elizabeth (the woman) has died; their marriage was an unhappy one and although Edmund tried his best to make her happy and make the best out of unfortunate circumstances, his wife was a spoiled and selfish being (who didn't deserve him!). Her death is shrouded in suspicion and rumors abound that Edmund is the one responsible for killing her.
His in-laws, whom he dislikes and who return the feeling, offer him the opportunity to keep the property he received as part of Elizabeth's dowry if he marries Gwyneth Hall, a poor cousin of Elizabeth's. They admit they have ulterior motives but won't admit what they are. Although Edmund doesn't want to accept, the dowry they are offering along with Gwyneth tempts him, for Elizabeth drained the estate and though he went back to mercenary work to support them, since his injury this is no longer a possibility. What Elizabeth's parents don't know, however, is that Edmund doesn't plan on making the marriage a real one - he won't consummate it and once he has recouped the amount of the dowry through his land, he will pay it back, annul the marriage (for all he knows, this new wife of his is helping his in-laws), and finally be done with Elizabeth's family forever.
Gwyneth Hall is nervous about marrying a man she has never met, but has hopes that the marriage will help her poor (though happy and tight-knit) family. She meets her husband moments before marrying him and is then taken to a beautiful but crumbling castle in need of repair. Who is this stern man, whom many people seem to fear because of his large size and the rumors of murder, but whom she can't help but be drawn to? He causes a fluttering in the bottom of her stomach and she wants to make him smile or even laugh. Gwyneth is determined to make a real marriage of what circumstances have forced, for she sees in Edmund a good man whom she is growing to love - and whom she thinks badly needs that love.
This book combines a marriage of convenience; a hurt and suspicious hero who has decided not to have sex with his wife (but is drawn to her, both emotionally and physically); a sweet and loving heroine who is confused by her husband's attempts to separate himself from her and determined to not let him succeed (and seduce him as best she can); and a nefarious plot being directed by evil ex-in-laws and carried out by we-don't-know-who. The combination is definitely a hit so hat's off to Gayle Callen for another great read!
This is a wonderful book and a great follow-up to His Scandal (the second book in the "His" series - I have yet to read the first). I barely recognized Edmund, since in the preceding book he was a much more lighthearted man and openly charming/teasing character. When we meet him now, he has suffered through a horrible marriage, been widowed and smeared with rumors that he caused his wife's death, and he's been injured in such a way as to end his career as a mercenary/soldier - the only thing he's ever known and has always excelled at.
There are *many laugh-out-loud moments* and the hero and heroine are truly delightful - a great match for each other and Callen portrays them vividly and engagingly. It's a pleasure to watch their relationship develop: Edmund trying to stay away from and not get attached to Gwyneth and Gwyneth trying to seduce her husband and make him care for her as she has begun to for him (though of course he already does). Gwyneth is so sweet and loyal that Edmund can't help but fall in love with her and although he's at first frightened by his feelings and fights them, he eventually realizes that he could never give Gwyn up and can no longer carry out his initial plan for their marriage. The only thing I didn't like was Gwyneth's thought-process during the small secret/misunderstanding that Callen includes towards the end; thankfully it doesn't drag on and once Gwyn and Edmund deal with it, I think it makes their relationship stronger.
The secondary characters are entertaining, especially Geoffrey (Edmund's friend and lieutenant), and on the whole the mystery subplot is interesting and adds intrigue and suspense - though it is resolved somewhat anti-climactically. The last scene is too maudlin for me, but on the whole this is an excellent book and I *highly* recommend it!
This book is part of Gayle Callen's Tudor romance "His" series, which goes in the following order: Book 1, His Betrothed (Spencer Thornton's story); Book 2, His Scandal (Alexander Thornton's story); and Book 3, His Bride (Edmund Blackwell's story). The books don't have to be read in order (Alex and Emmeline appear briefly in this one), though I think it helps to read Book 1 before Book 2.
HISTORICAL ROMANCE TAGS:
marriage of convenience - hero isn't of the nobility/aristocracy - military/ex-military hero - widower - scarred or handicapped hero (battle injury, has a limp) - heroine is from a poor family - heroine is the oldest of four siblings