by Janet Mullany, historical (2010)
Little Black Dress Book, £5.99, ISBN 978-0-7553-4780-3
It all started when Charlotte Hayden's friend and cousin Ann Weller married the Earl of Beresford. Ann, being a poor relation, was a companion and housekeeper to one of Charlotte's distant cousin, until this cousin died and Ann inherited that cousin's money. We are talking about lots of money here, heh. Charlotte's family is new money, and it is her mother's hope that Charlotte will catch the eye of a titled gentleman. Ann beats Charlotte to the punch, but there is no hard feelings on Charlotte's part. She played a part in facilitating Ann's various rendezvouses with Beresford during their courtship, after all. Okay, she knows she will be lonely when Ann goes off on her honeymoon, leaving Charlotte without a confidante and friend, but she will live.
It is during Ann's wedding that Charlotte meets Jonathan Trelaise, Viscount Shadderly. Shad is a cousin of Beresford. Shad finds Charlotte outspoken, her fashion sense pretty appalling, and her person quite fascinating in a way. Charlotte finds Shad very handsome, but she is determined to remain sensible in the presence of a self-proclaimed "wicked cousin". But one thing leads to another, an unwise kiss in a garden during a house party causing them to be hopelessly compromised. Because they hardly know each other, the wedding is just the beginning where their confused courtship is concerned.
Shad is a man of his time. You beget your heir on your wife, you play with your mistress. He is therefore quite horrified at his rude and ungentlemanly carnal interest in his wife to the exclusion of the hot opera singers and dancers whose company he used to enjoy. His attempts to rectify this "flaw" on his part aren't just the issues standing between them, however. There are also secrets involving illegitimate children, mistaken assumptions, and ex-lovers as Charlotte and Shad find their marriage hopelessly tangled up with the issues faced by Ann and Beresford as well in their marriage. Much of the drama here can be avoided should both characters trust each other to talk to each other, but given the rocky start of the marriage, these two characters can't be expected to communicate too well with each other.
Improper Relations is written in the same manner as Ms Mullany's previous books - in alternating first person point of view of both Shad and Charlotte - and the book is filled to the brim with the author's adorable wit and comic timing. She closes the door on the couple when it comes to the love scenes, but the sexual tension is still evident. Despite Shad often coming off like an irrational twit many times in this story, he and Charlotte have a relationship that is quite believable as there are many scenes here that demonstrate how they enjoy each other's company outside the bedroom. It also helps that Charlotte is no doormat where Shad is concerned - she is aware of his nonsense and she doesn't hesitate to call him on it. It is only when he refuses to listen that the problem persists.
As for Beresford and Ann, they cause quite a lot of drama that seeps into the lives of our newlyweds, but still, instead of being cartoon villains, these two come off as flawed folks that sometimes you just can't help being friends with despite everything.
Improper Relations is therefore pretty much another solid story by Ms Mullany. I confess that I prefer her previous books a little bit more as I have an inbuilt prejudice against stories with non-stop communication issues, but still, the author's upbeat and adroit prose as well as her sparkling characters win me over despite my initial reservations about the story. Really, if you haven't read anything by this author before, you're missing out on a lot of fun.
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