by Elizabeth Thornton, historical (2005)
Bantam, $6.99, ISBN 0-553-58753-6
The Marriage Trap is often too complicated for its own good so bear with me as I try to give a coherent synopsis of the plot here.
Okay, Ellie Brans-Hill first met Jack Rigg when his family sent him to her vicar father for some remedial behavior classes when Jack got himself expelled from Oxford. She had a crush on him and therefore played all kinds of practical jokes on him. But then he went on with his life and poor Ellie's one-sided summer love affair was over. But a chance reunion fifteen years later will give her a second chance at love, although she's understandably more preoccupied with other matters at this time.
You see, her brother Robbie is in trouble. Instead of responsibly attending his classes in Oxford, Robbie has been living it up in Paris. The resulting pile of debts accumulated by the fool causes Ellie to don her "Madame Aurora" disguise to win plenty of money at the tables to pay off the debts. Ellie is good at numbers, you see, which is why she is good at winning. Funny me, I can do my sums but I can never win the jackpot at the casino but maybe my counting isn't up to scratch. At any rate, Ellie becomes "Madame Aurora" every time Robbie gets himself into a financial pickle but this particular jaunt in Paris finds her in trouble. Guess who comes to the rescue.
Ex-soldier Jack doesn't recognize "Madame Aurora" but he manages to steal a few naughty feels and kisses from her before the night is out. Imagine his surprise when "Madame Aurora" turns out to be the mousy companion that he doesn't even recognize at first to be Ellie, claiming that they have been intimate. You see, while Ellie was away being Madame Aurora, her employer happens to lose her diamonds. Ellie therefore needs to have an alibi to account for her disappearance and, not wanting to expose herself or Robbie in any way, she sees Jack as her best explanation for her absence. She gets fired anyway for being a hussy, but at least she doesn't end up in jail.
Jack at first is furious with her because he believes that she is trying to trap him into marrying her but he soon learns the real reason for her actions. However, that doesn't mean that they can go separate ways afterwards. Robbie is now accused of killing an actress. Jack feels that he owed Ellie's father enough to help extricate the wayward Brans-Hill siblings from the mess they are in.
I don't understand Ellie. This is a woman who can win big money at the tables without apparently much effort, and yet she makes herself serve as a companion to unpleasant women. I understand that as a vicar's daughter, Ellie feels that it is not right to be a card shark, but hey, since she's already playing cards, I don't understand why she has to make herself the martyr when it comes to her own life. Is she trying to make some kind of atonement for helping Robbie by being Madame Aurora? Since she's abetting her brother's nonsense instead of telling him to straighten up his life, she's just perpetuating a vicious cycle where he gets to do all kinds of nonsense and she happily plays the victim as she bails him out of his troubles. There is an unpleasant female secondary character here that act as a foil to Ellie so that Ellie doesn't look so demented in comparison but I don't think it works since Ellie still comes off as pretty weird in the head. What I do like about Ellie is that when her back is against the wall, she can exhibit some steel, but on the whole her character is a puzzling one.
Ellie is also quite a nitwit for the rest of the story as she just can't seem to stop making the situation all about her. Jack, on the other hand, is a pretty likable fellow for a standard commitment-shy hero since he has a happy-go-lucky yet dependable personality that is appealing. The mystery isn't anything too interesting as the identity of the villain is pretty obvious from the moment this villain is introduced, but Ms Thornton nonetheless manages to put together everything pretty nicely.
The romance isn't anything too memorable as the characters are pretty familiar types going through some pretty familiar routine, and the mystery isn't anything too inventive either, but the bottom line is, the story manages to entertain me quite decently. That's not so bad then.
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