A Proper Marriage by Debbie Raleigh
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-7374-7
Debbie Raleigh has a penchant for trilogies. A Proper Marriage is the first of a new trio of books featuring the lovable country clergyman, Vicar Humbly. Humbly is about to retire from his living after a long career taking care of his people and spreading love and wisdom wherever he went. But before he can comfortably remove to his cottage and devote himself to his books, he must make sure that three couples whom he recently married find happiness.

Adele Morrow and Adam Drake had made an arranged marriage. Addy’s parents, a ramshackle couple to say the least, had run through their money. Unless Addy married her grandfather’s choice, her family would face financial ruin. Adam, raised to do his duty, accepted his own grandfather’s choice of a mate. Now these two seemingly ill-matched people have to make a go of their marriage. Vicar Humbly is convinced that they are making a hash of matrimony, so he hies off to London to set things straight.

Addy and Adam are indeed opposites. She was raised by parents who took unconventional behavior to a new high. She enjoyed much more freedom than most girls of her time and class, perhaps too much freedom. Adam was raised by a demanding father who instilled in him a high sense of duty and propriety, perhaps too much of the latter. When he married the free-spirited Addy, he insisted that she behave with utmost propriety herself. Engaged in important work for the War Office, he has little time for his lovely bride. Needless to say, Addy resents her husband and the life she is forced to live.

The arrival of Vicar Humbly forces both husband and wife to confront the nature of their marriage and the fact that neither is happy with the way their lives are going. His gentle interference convinces Adam that he does not want a sober and proper wife and shows Addy that Adam’s reliability is much preferable to the insecurity she had known in her own family.

Both the heroine and the hero are well drawn characters. Addy has tried to be the kind of wife she thinks Adam wants; after all, she and her family owe him a great deal. But she has had to stifle her true self and abandon her passion for painting. She is not happy. Adam is, I’m afraid to say, a typical clueless male. He believes that, given her unconventional upbringing, that he has to keep Addy on a short leash. Yet he doesn’t understand why his wife is so unhappy or his marriage is so unsatisfactory. He found the old Addy attractive, yet set out to change her.

Thank heavens for Vicar Humbly. Thanks to his clever schemes, both Addy and Adam begin to understand and appreciate each other. Not even the arrival of Addy’s parents or the schemes of a predatory rake can shake their new found love.

A Proper Marriage breaks no new ground. It is a pretty typical Regency romance. But it is an entertaining tale of how two intelligent and attractive people can get marriage so wrong and then discover how it really ought to work. I will be looking for Vicar Humbly’s next adventure.

--Jean Mason

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