The Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh
Signet, $5.50, PG-13, ISBN 0-451-19143-9
*****
Five hearts means a definite keeper. Perhaps I should begin by saying that for me, at least, all of Mary Balogh's books, whether Regencies or historicals, are definite keepers. Having confessed all, I believe I can safely say that The Temporary Wife is one of her best short novels and demonstrates once again her masterful ability to create compelling characters whose behavior and emotions are both true to the era she recreates and universal in their appeal.

Balogh takes one of the traditional plots of the Regency genre - the marriage of convenience -- and makes it seem fresh by giving it an unusual twist. Anthony Earheart, Marquess of Staunton and heir to the Duke of Withingsby needs a wife, but not for the usual reasons. He does not need money; he does not want an heir; he is not marrying at the behest of his family. Rather, he wants a wife who, while of genteel birth, will be universally viewed as unsuitable as the bride of a duke's heir.

Anthony has been estranged from his family for eight years, but has just received a summons from his father, insisting that Anthony return home since the duke is very ill. The marquess wishes to carry with him a bride who will both free him from his father's determination to marry him off to the wife chosen from birth and demonstrate his disdain for the rigid insistence on pride and precedence that has guided his father's life. Since he can't advertise for a wife, he advertises for a governess. Surely among these sad, timid, and dependent women he will find his perfect temporary wife.

Charity Duncan needs a position. Her father has gambled away the family's patrimony. Her brother is struggling to support his younger siblings as a clerk. And she has lost her last position as a governess for objecting to the master's treatment of a pretty housemaid. She appears for her interview with Mr. Earheart, determined to act as meekly and as governess-y as any employer could want. When her prospective employer proposes to marry her, engage her services for a few weeks as he visits his family, and then provide for her comfortably but separately for the rest of her life, Charity is stunned. But seeing the opportunity to save her family from penury, she agrees.

Of course, neither party to the bargain is what he seems. The groom is not a mere mister, but a Marquess. The bride is not a shy, brown wren, but rather a woman of warm and forceful character.

The relationship between Charity and Anthony is handled with Balogh's usual skill. It seems quite understandable that the agreement not to consummate the marriage does not survive the wedding night. Anthony finds himself drawn to love his temporary wife; Charity finds in her troubled but handsome husband unsuspected tenderness and care. But the terms of their bargain stand between their easy acceptance of their need for each other.

Balogh does a wonderful job uncovering the secrets that drove Anthony from his home and showing how old wounds are healed. All the characters, all their actions, all their emotions are so eminently believeable. No one currently writing in the Regency genre can pack so much emotion in such a short book or create such authentic plots and characters within the genre's conventions.

The Temporary Wife demonstrates once again that Mary Balogh is without peer as a writer of Regency romances.

--Jean Mason


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