Saturday, November 6, 2010
When Elizabeth Hotchkiss stumbles upon a copy of How to Marry a Marquis in her employer's library, she's convinced someone is playing a cruel joke. With three younger siblings to support, she knows she has to marry for money, but who might have guessed how desperate she's become? A guidebook to seduction might be just the thing she needs—and what harm could there be in taking a little peek?
James Sidwell, the Marquis of Riverdale, has been summoned to rescue his aunt from a blackmailer, a task that requires him to pose as the new estate manager, and his primary suspect is his aunt's companion, Elizabeth. Intrigued by the alluring young woman with the curious little rulebook, he gallantly offers to help her find a husband... by practicing her wiles on him. But when practice becomes all too perfect, James decides that there is only one rule worth following—that Elizabeth marry her marquis.
I loved this romance. Second in the Regency "Agents for the Crown" series, Elizabeth is an endearing heroine who works as a paid companion for the irascible Lady Danbury. Elizabeth has been working for her for five years, while trying to support her three younger siblings after her wastrel father up and died and left them with nothing but debts. Elizabeth, gently bred from a noble, though penniless family, is at her wits end. The money is running out and all she can hope to do is marry to save her family.
One day, she finds the book "How to Marry a Marquis" on a bookshelf in Lady Danbury's library. Curious, she picks it up and decides to take it back to her cottage and read it, although she really doesn't believe in anything it says, but... she's desperate. Just getting it home without being discovered turned out to be a huge feat in of itself! Her younger sister gets hold of it, studies it, and convinces Elizabeth that if she follows all the rules then Elizabeth should have no trouble finding someone suitable. Maybe not necessarily a marquis, but someone that she can be happy with. The rules are hilarious btw - I was convinced Lady Danbury was the real author, but it never come up in the storyline.
At the same time, Lady Danbury has gotten her nephew, James Sidwell to pose as her new estate manager. James, a marquis, is more like a son to her with a secret agent type background. They have a poignant background regarding how Lady Danbury took James into her home after his mother died when he was a young boy. She helped remove him from the unhappy and detrimental influence of his father. Now, a grown man and a retired agent of the Crown, Lady Danbury enlists his help to find out who is blackmailing her. In his disguise as estate manager, he meets Elizabeth repeatedly, and soon they form a friendship. He is interested in the comely companion to his aunt, despite her alarming tendency to flail her arms about, knocking things over and hurting unsuspecting marquis that happen to be in harm's way. Elizabeth barely gives the handsome estate manager the time of day at first, for he is unsuitable for her needs. Although, she has been learning her lessons from "How to Marry a Marquis" and tries practicing them on James, since he's the only young man around. To her, he is nothing more than a guinea pig for the real thing. She needs to meet someone with a little money and an estate steward just isnt' going to "do" it. James is chagrined, for if he weren't bound to keep his disguise in place, he would court Elizabeth as himself - a marquis! They are continually thrown together and I laughed out loud at many of their adventures and mishaps together. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who's behind it all.
Before long, James finds out about Elizabeth's guilty secret and her book. He finds it intriguing (being a marquis himself) and offers to help her in her quest. Funnily enough, her first lessons involve kissing and boxing. Amazingly enough - she goes along with it! But almost immediately, the more he's around Elizabeth, the more he realizes he doesn't like the idea of her marrying anyone else. He's jealous at the very idea! He must have her for himself and figures he can play along with her little game and once he catches his aunt's blackmailer then he can come clean with her, ask her to marry him and they'll live happily ever after. But, it doesn't work out that way. Elizabeth finds out that James is a marquis at the masquerade ball Lady Danbury throws. She jumps to the wrong conclusions and thinks he's been making fun of her all along, amusing himself at her expense. Of course, she's dead wrong - he's been falling in love with her instead - and she with him! But, she fell in love with what she thought was a lowly estate manager! James' friends from the first book in the series, To Catch an Heiress, try to patch things up for them, but Elizabeth doesn't make it easy. She refuses to marry James - after he's made it crystal clear he wants to marry her! Elizabeth has a tendency to be stubborn and obstinate at times.
This book was simply delightful and read like a screwball comedy. I'm leaving tons out, but the verbal word play, irony and developing romance between Elizabeth and James made this a quick and entertaining read. Elizabeth tried to resist James' natural charm and good humor for she was determined to marry someone to save her family and James was determined to make her fall in love with him, but he was stuck because of his hidden identity. The back and forth between the two along with James' dilemma about how he should break the news to Elizabeth about who he really was kept the story moving forward.
An early Julia Quinn comedy with a touch of poignancy, laughter and some sweet love scenes thrown in as well. I liked Elizabeth, she tried to do the right thing, but her single minded determination got in the way of her common sense that was telling her to trust her love and go with James - whether estate manager or marquis! I loved it!