by Cynthia Sterling, historical (2001)
Jove (A Seduction Romance), $5.99, ISBN 0-515-13028-1
A Husband By Law features one of the most winning heroes I've ever come across. Lt Michael Trent, he a soldier of the First Dragoons, makes his spying on the heroine sleep one of the most romantic acts of voyeurism ever. It's because the author makes him so crazy about this heroine, no but's, no if's, he's just nuts about her, that I am just charmed. (The nice cover hunk is also a plus.) Unfortunately, heroine Ellen Winthrop is eighteen, on the run, and hence, as dull as an 18-year old desperate heroine can be.
Ellen flees England after she is accused of theft. (I'm still wondering why a woman would actually have to flee a continent just to avoid a stay in jail - surely the countryside is a better choice?) Ellen has an uncle in California, and she asks the First Dragoons if she can accompany them to California. Unfortunately, the only women allowed are wives of the army, and hence Ellen is willing to marry a soldier out of convenience.
I still don't understand why she just can't flee to Scotland or something.
Michael is in trouble after he tries to save a woman from being mauled and beaten by her husband. But this is not the first time the 26-year old womanizer gets into trouble over women, and his superior has had enough. He will go marry Ellen and learn the mellow style of living as a married man or he will rot in jail. Ellen makes it easy for him: she is drop dead gorgeous, and she is willing to cook, clean, and keep the marriage in name only. Okay, Mike says, already and reluctantly besotted with his new bride-to-be.
Mike is charming and the way he tries so hard to be nice and noble wins me over completely. Sure, he has his doubts about his worthiness to wed this "noble English lady" just as she has her doubts about him wanting her, "a mere English orphan", but thankfully, external conflicts soon bring a halt to this tired psychobabble. But the way Mike is so kind to her, oh my. When he dances with Ellen in an army ball because he knows she has never done anything like this, I feel the need to sniff once or twice into my hankie. He is the perfect roguish daddy figure to protect Ellen from the realities of life.
Ah yes, Ellen. She's the typical romance novel heroine who is in dire trouble yet insists on playing by the rules like a wooden dummy. Life always is hard on her, and men are never kind to her, until Mike comes into her life like a shining beacon of salvation. "Oh, Michael, dance with me," she implores him, tears running down her cheeks, "save me, rescue me, don't ever let me go! I trust you, Michael! I love you, Michael!"
How dull. Ellen is one of those women who insist on being strong and independent, yet she caves in at the slightest hint of adversity, all the way clinging to Mike - "I trust you! I love you! I trust you!" - like a barnacle. 18 year old goody-woody heroines who kept being described as innocent and pure can have this sleeping pill effect on me, and Ellen comes close to making me slip into a sugar-shock induced nausea episode.
Despite the gag-inducing sickly-sweet damsel-in-distress, A Husband By Law more than makes up for that barnacle girl by giving me a very well-done hero who deserves the title 'hero' indeed and a very readable Western road trip adventure in all the right pace and with enough evocative atmosphere to reel me in. It's not great romance, but it is a good read.
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