One of my favourite tropes is the marriage of convenience. Patricia Rice’s new historical novel, The Devilish Montague, part of the Rebellious Sons series, is right up my alley! I inhaled the book like a pint of smooth French vanilla ice cream, but my review got a tad sidetracked because of a certain royal tour of North America that was followed by a country-rocking scandal in the UK followed by this and followed by that (choose an excuse: debt ceiling, financial meltdown, going on vacation, heading to a wedding…).
My shelves are groaning with Out Of Print (OOP) Regencies, and one of the stars of the panoply is Patricia Rice. A few hallmarks of her style – humorous introspection from both the heroine and the hero, a respect for the mores of the time, and unforgettable animals. And always a story that draws in the reader because they care about the protagonists. The Devilish Montague has all this in abundance, plus an intriguing continuing story a la Eloisa James (I’m referring to the taut and sizzling interchanges between Lady Isabell Belden and Lord Quentin Hoyt – they had better get their own book). One of my pet peeves is starting a book and realizing that it’s the second or third in a series and I’m lost. That doesn’t happen here – yes, it is the second in the Rebellious Sons series, but, although you meet the couple from the first book, it’s entirely natural and believable, much like the friendship between the gentlemen of the Burgundy Club in Miranda Neville’s continuing series.
Let me set the stage ~ Blake and Jocelyn are in a pickle. They both need money to pursue the dreams closest to their hearts, Jocelyn to feel safe and return to Carrington House, her childhood home, thus giving stability to her younger brother Richard; Blake to shake off the family curse and to be allowed to continue code cracking in Europe. Underestimated by others, they misjudge each other, but their growing acquaintance leads to lust, longing, and eventually a loving appreciation of each other’s idiosyncrasies. Jocelyn is manipulative, observant, and possessed of great emotional intelligence. I also very much like her older friend and mentor, Lady Belden, the relict of a marquess, who lovingly yet sensibly presented Jocelyn with her choices:
… now that you have my late husband’s bequest, you have choices. I will not hurry you into a decision that will affect the rest of your life. If your family comes first, so be it. But your social flair would be an asset for so many men, and even if you do not marry, I’m sure you could find other means of employing your talents. Why, your eye for choosing just the right fabrics and ribbons could make you an arbiter of fashion!
It’s lovely to read a book where a heroine’s choices are considered sensibly and without passion and heat. Jocelyn has grown up in a hard school where survival has meant deflecting attention from herself and getting her own way has required navigating surreptitious channels. Part of Blake’s appeal to her is that “his worth lay in his intellect, not in his pockets”. He intrigues her.
She must admit that he is a handsome, if formidable, figure of a man—not one easily manipulated by the deceptive smiles and beguiling ways she’d learned to employ.
Rice’s characters, in my experience, are not mealy-mouthed. They may dissemble, but their usual inclination is to be forthright. This book is no exception. I won’t distract you with a long segue about why a salty-tongued parrot is a pivotal member of the cast of characters. Just take my word for it. Jocelyn steals Percy, the parrot, and persuades Blake to take care of him.
“You are not normal, you know that?” he asked, warily taking the box, which muffled Percy’s protests. “Women do not marry for birds.”
“Most men do not marry to get themselves killed, either,” she said cheerfully. “We must get to know each other … Consider this preliminary negotiations to see if we will suit.”
And, of course, they do suit. They become engaged but with few illusions on either side. Unfortunately, Jocelyn’s tortured relationship with her eeeeeeevil half-brother Harold results in him demanding 400 pounds from her before she marries in order for him to relinquish guardianship of her brother Richard. Still with me? Jocelyn will do anything to take care of her younger brother, even spend the money that Blake is counting on, her dowry, so that he can pay his way back to the war on the continent. Every book needs a conflict or two to be conquered on the path to an HEA, and Jocelyn’s deception will be their first. Even so, when Blake physically removes Harold from her presence (before their marriage), Jocelyn realizes that in her finance she may have found a champion. Blake sloughs off her praise and appreciation.
“Blowhards and bullies are not worth the trouble,” her gallant knight said dismissively.
She’d accept this as a sign that Mr. Montague would protect her and hers, even after he learned of her deception.
Before they marry, Jocelyn is thrilled to be courted by Blake, even when she receives a scarcely legible note, “Picnic tomorrow? Noon. Best, Montague.” Even so, when they marry Jocelyn is a bundle of nerves, because she is worried about what her husband will think and do when he realizes that he has been deceived and that she has no ready cash. Marriages of convenience that aren’t convenient for one of the partners are particularly interesting. Their wedding night is proceeding along intensely exciting lines when they hear a frantic cry just outside the door. It’s Richard, her brother, suddenly arrived on her doorstep. So no consummation, and then Blake finds out the next day from his wife’s banker that there are no funds. Can this fledgling marriage be saved?
Blake confronts his wife and they actually talk. There is no miscommunication or continuing secrets. Their journey to love sees them each solving each other’s most besetting problems. What’s sexier than a man demanding that you talk with him? A husband who admires your smarts, even if they’re different from his? I may be using modern language, but the characters’ talents are rooted in their time. Jocelyn specializes in people and Blake solves puzzles. Emotions, though, are timeless and Rice makes the reader believe in her characters and what makes them tick.
Reading a book that reinforces the transformational power of love is a special experience. Sink into The Devilish Montague and revisit the first flush of love. Patricia Rice will have you remembering that love can enhance and enlarge every aspect of your life.
“Love is a kind of madness, is it not? I love and adore you, but I will never be the clever, obedient sort of wife you wish.”
Briefly, Blake closed his eyes and let her declaration sink in. Love had been a smothering emotion until Jocelyn entered his life. Now, he could see the freedom it offered.
“`Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,’” he quoted, leaning over to kiss the upper curve of her lip. “Why would I be so dunderheaded as to wish to change anything about you?”
And perhaps a cliché, but I wouldn’t change a word of The Devilish Montague. Enjoy Patricia Rice at the top of her form.
All Blake Montague wants is to save Europe from a tyrant. But as the penniless youngest son of a baron, he needs a marriage of convenience to provide the money he requires for a military commission. Then he meets a blonde beauty who can fulfill all his needs-especially those satisfied by a wife…
Read an excerpt.
Other books in this series: