An honorable hero and his realistically described twelve-year-old ward are not strong enough to counter an immature, wishy-washy heroine. Debra Mullins' A Necessary Bride has two strong characters and a murder mystery, but the relationship is frustrating because of the female lead.
Justin St. James, back in England after six years, is the new Earl of Rathmore after the sudden deaths of his uncle and cousin. Both of his relatives had accused him of murdering his cousin's fiancée during a house party and sent him into exile. Now that he is Rathmore, he plans to find out who really murdered Ophelia and clear his name. This is difficult because many of the ton distrust him. One of the people who never believed the accusation is his childhood friend, the Earl of Knightsbridge. Justin decides to attend his wedding as a start to his investigation.
Margaret Stanton-Lynch is also attending the wedding since the Earl, Devon, is her cousin. She is the granddaughter of the Duke of Raynewood. Her grandfather had disowned her father when he married an Irish commoner, so Meg and her brother Garrett (the subject of the previous book A Necessary Husband), were born and lived in America. With both of her parents dead and her brother busy with his shipping business, Meg secretly traveled to England to find her grandfather. At her cousin's wedding, she spies a striking and dark man who stands off by himself. Not knowing anything about the rumors, she introduces herself to Justin. There is an instant attraction between them.
Meg ends up staying with her newlywed cousin at his estate. It is adjacent to Justin's estate. She encounters Justin's twelve-year-old cousin and ward in the woods between the two properties. Emily is a troubled and unhappy child who gives Justin fits. He can't figure out what happened to the sunny six-year-old who always loved seeing him. She is in the woods upset after an argument with him when Meg finds her. Meg is able to calm her down and then play peacemaker between the two when Justin finds them.
Justin asks Meg's help with his ward and also realizes that Meg's position as a Duke's granddaughter could help him get into ton events where he could continue his investigation. He is honest with her about needing her help, but he also begins to seriously fall for her. Meg is very attracted to Justin, but has a number of issues.
Meg's issues and how she handles them are my main problem with her character. She is twenty-three years old. She ran away from America because she didn't see her brother enough and didn't want to just settle down with any of the men she knew. She decides to find her grandfather and see what English society is like. She discovers that English society is much more rigid about proper behavior and decides to play the "I'm an American" card whenever she does not agree with the restrictions. She also decides that she wants to find something to do with her life that makes her special and not just a granddaughter or a wife. She tries several endeavors such as gardening and singing, but isn't very good at any of them.
It seems unlikely that a woman of that time would have so little idea of her talents since music, art, and gardening were all activities that she would have probably been expected to try when she was much younger. Her attempts seem to have been included to add a little humor to the story, since her cousin has to keep telling her that some of his servants can't take her gardening or singing and threaten to quit.
She develops a good relationship with Emily, but her handling of one incident is ridiculous. Emily is visiting another girl her age when they overhear an angry man berating a servant. She becomes so shaky that her cousin rushes her home and called the doctor. Meg arrives and privately talks with Emily about why she was so upset. Afterward, Meg refuses to tell Justin about their conversation claiming that she has to hold the conversation confidential. I had to go back and reread the conversation between the woman and the girl. Emily never asks Meg to hold back the information from her cousin. As a supposed adult, Meg should have told him about Emily's thoughts so that he could help. Later in the book, it is obvious that the information was kept from Justin because his knowledge of it would probably have solved his mystery much sooner.
Both Justin and Emily are much more likable people. Emily is shown as a real child. She is understandably troubled over the death of her father and grandfather and unsure of the beloved cousin who disappeared six years earlier without a word to her. The scenes where she connects with a new friend are delightful.
I wish that Meg could have measured up to Justin and Emily. The rest of the story is intriguing including the mystery. There are enough suspects so that it is fairly far into the book before I figured out who had really killed Ophelia. With a stronger heroine, this would have been a much better and more enjoyable book.
--B. Kathy Leitle