by Jane Feather, historical (2010)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-4524-1
Rushed To The Altar is the first book in a trilogy revolving around three brothers who are forced to marry and "reform" a "lost soul". Thanks to a rich uncle, the Viscount Bradley, who concocts this clause as a condition for the three men inheriting his money when he croaks, our three men have to quickly locate some bride among the lost and the needy ASAP.
In this one, Jasper Sullivan, the Earl of Blackwater, needs the money because his late father had squandered pretty much everything before he died and left Jasper a bankrupt title. Jasper decides that the quickest way to meet his uncle's condition and therefore inherit the necessary money needed to restore his lands and such is to marry a prostitute. It won't be a really marriage - he will have the whole thing annulled shortly after he has secured the dough. Of course, he expects some sex in the arrangement because she is a whore and therefore she's free for the taking. As it happens, shortly after he literally bumps into what seems like a most enchanting prostitute, and he knows that he has found his perfect candidate.
Clarissa Astley is actually the daughter of a squire from Kent. When her father died, her ten-year old brother Francis becomes the ward of her uncle, Luke, although Francis will become her ward when she turns twenty-one. She is now twenty, by the way. Luke, however, ferrets Francis away to London shortly before the story opens and Clarissa suspects that something terrible has happened to Francis when Luke refuses to let Francis directly correspond with her. An anonymous message telling her that Francis is in danger soon compels her to come to London and seek out Francis.
It isn't long before Clarissa realizes that she can't find and protect Francis on her own. Her uncle is the legal guardian of her brother, so Luke can easily take Francis away from her again should she locate Francis in London. When she is mistaken for a doxy by the Earl of Blackwater and receives from the man this business proposal to play the mistress and then temporary wife of that man, she realizes that she should accept the offer as an Earl's protection is exactly what she and her brother need in their situation. She will try to postpone the whole shagging thing, locate Francis and bring him into the household set up by Jasper for her, and then she will figure out what to do next.
Clarissa is, therefore, a rare heroine in that she can actually think, analyze her situation, and understand that pragmatism is sometimes more vital in a dire circumstance than emotional hysteria and constant bleating about one's virtue. Running headlong to London solo is not the smartest thing to do, perhaps, but she realizes this quickly and is able to make the best of a situation. [spoiler starts] It also isn't every day that I come across a heroine who uses a dildo to remove evidence of her virginity in case she needs to bed the hero. [spoiler ends]
The problem with this story is that the poor darling is stuck in a dull story. She quickly locates and brings Francis successfully into the household set up by Jasper for her and there is still a long way to go before the happy ending. The rest of the story sees her dealing with our hero while the villain rages and foams at the mouth like a cartoon character. Jasper, unfortunately, is a flat hero. His biggest angst in this story is that he doesn't understand why he can't shag Clarissa since he knows that she is a whore and we all know that whores put out for men like him without hesitation, with a more minor angst about how a prostitute broke his heart once upon a time so now he refuses to love again. Compared to Clarissa, Jasper comes off like a sullen and immature twit. The poor man doesn't even get to show some heroism here - Clarissa is the one who rescues Francis when the villain predictably grabs him again late in the story. Jasper is useful to Clarissa only because he's an Earl, heh.
Incidentally, I should warn you that Jasper treats Clarissa as his mistress for pretty much the entire story - which is to say, he treats her like his purchased sex object. He can't understand why she won't put out to him and there are some instances when he says some really cutting things to her because he believes her to be no better than a whore. Because his attitude persists for so long, there doesn't seem to be any element of respect in their relationship. In fact, there aren't any particular scene here to suggest that he and Clarissa have anything other than a business relationship borne out of necessity. When the happy ending arrives, I can only roll up my eyes and say, "Yeah, right."
In a manner typical of this author, this story is dripping with cynicism. Jasper's uncle is no benevolent eccentric matchmaker - that man is truly a bully who enjoys making the lives of the people around him as unpleasant as possible. Various other secondary characters reveal themselves to be weak at best or treacherous at worst. Of course, I probably can't expect anything else from a story where the hero demonstrates to be of little use to the heroine as a person - his title and the protection that comes with it are what the heroine is really after here.
All I can say about Rushed To The Altar is that you may want to read this book for its rare breed of heroine. But if you read this book for romance, you may have a hard time identifying any romantic element in this story.
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