Because of You

Falling In Love Again

When Dreams Come True

 
Married in Haste by Cathy Maxwell
(Avon, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80831-5
****
I always know when a book has grabbed me when I keep on thinking about the characters after Iíve finished that final page. Since I went to sleep last night imagining Brennís and Tessís lives in the ďhappily ever after,Ē I can only conclude that Cathy Maxwell sucked me completely into her story and characters.

The title, Married in Haste is most apt. Here we have two people who meet, feel a clear attraction for each other, and find themselves married within one short week. Each has a secret that the other had no opportunity to discover. These secrets imperil the marriage.

Tess Hamlin is known to the London ton as ďthe Incomparable.Ē Despite her blazing red hair, she is also called ďthe Ice MaidenĒ because in the four years since she was presented, she has rejected suitors too numerous to mention. Beautiful, witty and wealthy, she has thus far found no man for whom she is willing to give up her freedom. Her brother and trustee is too fond of his sister to force her to wed, despite the urgings of his selfish wife who wishes her out of the house.

Tess is introduced to the reader in one of the most arresting opening scenes I have come across in a while. She storms into the ladyís retiring room at a London ball to defend her friend Anne against the machinations of one of the tonís other reigning beauties who has heartlessly flirted with the man Anne hoped to marry.

Tess forces all the young women there to come to terms with the reality of their situation:

Is it right that they consider us little more than ornaments or bank accounts or brood mares?. . . . In the last two hours, have any of you had an escort ask you about yourself? No, of course not. They rattle on and on about their interests and their pursuits, but they donít care anything about us other than our appearances -- and our dowries. Worse, most gentlemen believe you are fortunate theyíve even bothered to notice you.

The truth of Tessís complaint being universally acknowledged, the young women agree on a wager to see who that night will be the first to receive an offer.

Upon leaving the retiring room, Tess notices an unfamiliar and interesting face. It is Brenn Owen, the new Earl of Merton. She arranges an introduction, even seeking the assistance of the scandal-mongering Deland Godwin.

A war injury having left the earl unable to dance, they take a turn around the terrace. Imagine Tessís surprise when Brenn, rather than rattling on about his own interests or his heroic war record, asks her about herself. This pleasant interlude is interrupted when news of the girlsí improper wager sweeps the ballroom.

Ruin seems to face Tess when Brenn steps into the breech and makes an offer. To Tessís amazement, her brother Neil accepts the offer and instructs Brenn to procure a special license. The wedding will take place within the week.

When Tess confronts Neil with her refusal to be forced into marriage, her brother informs her that he has lost her fortune through bad investments. If she doesnít marry the Earl of Merton, she will never marry and the family will be ruined. And so she agrees, hoping for the best.

What Tess doesnít realize is that Brenn has come to London to seek a rich wife. So the wedding takes place and the couple head off for Wales and to their respective moments of truth.

The success of any romance depends on the characters and Maxwell has created a most appealing hero and heroine. Tess is a complex mix of wisdom and innocence. (Her efforts to discover what really happens on the wedding night are both humorous and poignant.) She quickly falls under the sensual spell of her husband, but her pleasant dreams are rudely shattered and she must learn what really matters in life. She grows up quickly and effectively. Brenn is a man who has never had a home and whose dreams are all centered on restoring Erwynn Keep.

One of the most important facets of any romance is the authorís ability to convince the reader that the hero and heroine will indeed live happily ever after. Maxwell certainly made a believer of me. Tess was searching for a life with meaning and she finds it. Brenn was searching for a home and love and he finds it. Tess and Brenn may have Married in Haste, but they do not repent, and neither will the reader who picks up this book.

--Jean Mason


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