The Most Unsuitable Husband
by Caroline Clemmons, historical (2003)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7444-1


This book is related to The Most Unsuitable Wife. I haven't read that one, but I can understand what is going on in The Most Unsuitable Husband easily, so I don't think this book will have any problem standing alone.

Most romance novels have a great hero but a lousy heroine. In The Most Unsuitable Husband, it is the reverse: the heroine is excellent but the hero is just sad, for the want of a better word that won't scare the kiddies. The title of the book is more accurate than Caroline Clemmons would like to imagine.

When this book begins, our heroine Sarah Kincaid has come all the way to St Louis to attend the burial of her saloon owner mother Roxie. To her dismay, her mother left her the saloon. What is she, a schoolteacher, to do with a saloon? Sarah decides to sell the saloon and leave for home in Kincaid Springs, Austin with bittersweet memories. However, her chaperone aunt Lily elopes with Lily's ex-boyfriend in a whirlwind courtship and Sarah has to look for a new chaperone. This changes when she finds herself caring for three orphans (one, a little girl, is very ill) and she needs a nanny that can double as a chaperone. Luckily for her, she finds a reliable woman in Fiona as well as a charming man, Nate Barton, that wants to tag along. He wants to make sure she's safe, of course. Sarah wonders what he is up to, but decides that she can use his help and besides, when she gets to Kincaid Springs back to her family, she can get rid of him easily if he makes a nuisance out of himself.

She's right to be suspicious. Nate Barton is actually Nate Bartholomew, a never-do-well scoundrel that is also Roxie's stepson. Nate wants his mother's jewelry that Sarah is keeping as well as what he deems his share from the proceeds of Sarah's selling the saloon. But it is probably too easy to talk and negotiate with Sarah, so he will seduce her and then steal what is rightfully his. In case you miss this very pertinent part of Nate's Grand Plot, Ms Clemmons will have Nate repeat this again and again in every scene Nate appears in. Sheesh, Nate, I get it after the sixth time you mention it in six consecutive chapters, shut up already or get a new thing to whine about!

Sarah is a very good heroine. She is caring, she is selfless, she is prim, she is proper - in short, she will be very irritating if she isn't sharp and smart at the same time. She only does a stupid thing once in the story - wandering alone in a seedy area. Okay, twice - taking Nate back counts as another stupid action in my book. Still, she is always thinking very carefully about what she does. If she makes a plan, the plan works because our heroine thinks things over throughly. She is also suspicious of Nate's motives and if she is duped by him, that's because she really has no chance of knowing who he is until too late. In short, this is a case of the heroine being duped by the hero because the odds of learning who he is are stacked against her, not because she's a gullible nitwit.

The three children have their shares of manipulative moments, but overall, they behave like kids and not eeriely sage and overly sweet midgets, so they're okay.

The plot though isn't much, and it feels like a continuation of what took place in The Most Unsuitable Wife. The author does a decent job in filling in the gaps for the new reader, but I believe that readers that have read the first book will appreciate the plot better.

Still, I always enjoy a romance novel where the heroine is smart and aware, but Nate really annoys me. His repetitious gloating that he will Seduce! and Steal! from Sarah is annoying enough, but his cowardly nature and his aversion to honest ranch work severely test my patience. All will be good if the author redeems him with a nice groveling session, but no. Instead, Nate, when he should be a man and beg the heroine for forgiveness, embarks on the predictable and regrettable "I've hurt her, she hates me, so I'm no good for her - adios!" track of action. An unlikeable buffoon and a stereotype to boot - just what did Sarah see in him anyway (apart from the obvious physical beauty, that is)?

To be fair, I get what the author is trying to do - she wants me to know that Nate has done a lot of good things while laboring under the belief that he is a bad guy. As Sarah says, Nate is a sheep in wolf's clothing. Unfortunately, Ms Clemmons fails to develop Nate in a way that shows me that Nate is worth it. Sarah tells me that he is worth it, but it's not enough for me. Not when Nate does some really too stupid actions throughout the story that result in the nonsense he inflicts on Sarah later in the story. In this case, Nate is a failed attempt at being a tortured hero needing redemption. He's more like a spoiled and whiny brat given too much leeway by a too-understanding heroine.

Nonetheless, a nicely written heroine and an enjoyable secondary cast make The Most Unsuitable Husband a decent read. Chances are, there are readers out there that will find Nate a more likeable tortured bad boy character than I did. Therefore, if you like stories of bad boys and the intelligent women that love them despite their better judgments, do take a look at this one and decide for yourself. There's no harm in supporting a midlist author when she writes an entertaining story, is there?

Rating: 78


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