|Anne Gracie has given us a really good story with a fine heroine and a hero who is truly adorable. The only thing keeping this from a higher rating is the rather traditional tale of amnesia and the fact that The Accidental Wedding started very slowly. I struggled to keep reading at times until over half-way through the book. After that, I didn't want to put it down.
Maddy Woodford has had an interesting life. She was born of a mother who had relatives that were part of the aristocracy in France before the Revolution, and a gently-bred landowner from England. But her mother died young and her father resented Maddy for being a daughter rather than a son. She was left in France to live with her grandmother, who taught her parts of being a lady, parts of resiliency and able to deal with poverty, and parts of being a gentlewoman. The grandmother didn't live long enough or have the opportunity to teach all of it.
At 19, Maddy's father called her back to England to help care for him on his deathbed and to care for his other six children, ranging in age from 3 to 12. The opening of the book finds her in a cottage on the estate of Sir Jasper Brownrigg, an old friend of her grandmother. Her agreement with Sir Jasper was to live in the cottage as long as she needed, rent-free. But Sir Jasper has died and the new landlord, an heir who has yet to show his face, is demanding high payment to stay there, according to his agent. Maddy's only choice is to keep trying to raise money with the hats she creates, her vegetables and other assorted work she has been pursuing to keep the food on the table for her six brothers and sisters.
Nash Renfrew, brother to the Earl of Avenleigh and a diplomat most recently serving in Russia, is Sir Jasper's heir. But Nash knows nothing of Maddy and little of his inheritance. He is on his way to visit this place he hasn't seen since he was a child. He attempts to jump a fence on his horse and falls due to a "mudslide" the children have made by the fence. Maddy sees him and rushes to his aid. Nash is unconscious with some bruises and an obvious head injury and injury to his ankle. She gets him into the cottage, cuts off his boot and sends for the doctor, who tells her he cannot be moved. A few days later after fighting some fever, Nash awakens with no memories except random facts.
There is a lot of story to introduce, helping us understand all that Maddy has been through and how she has gotten to this place in her life. There is a lot of Nash's story that must be explained, as his family is a convoluted mess too. His father and mother were passionately in love and often argued, pitting the children between them and even sending one son off to live with a great-aunt due to the question of his paternity. Due to this unhappy upbringing, Nash wants nothing to do with love and emotion, convinced that this was what caused all the unhappiness. He has asked his aunt to find him a bride and resents Maddy for tempting him with her body and her innocence. Meanwhile, Maddy is fighting her dreams and hopes that a Prince Charming will enter her life and take her away.
It took a long time to like these two together, even as I was drawn to them as individuals. Nash is a bit high-handed but given the era and his job, it was easy to understand why and how he believed he was responsible and needed to take charge. Maddy is a bit silly at times and yet is one of the most sensible heroines I have seen in a while. She actually talks and argues with Nash, something he just doesn't know how to deal with.
There is a lot to this, including a "headless ghost" who comes in the night and seems to be terrorizing Maddy and the children. There is the threat of eviction that is pushing Maddy to return to her past and marry a friend of her father's who she rejected after his death. Nash slowly regains his memory and then struggles with how he can tell Maddy who he is - her landlord. And of course, they both fight their attraction.
Overall, I enjoyed The Accidental Wedding once I settled in and things made some sense. But I will warn readers that the beginning is slow and may cause them to give up before they get to the best part of the story.