First Comes Marriage

Then Comes Seduction

At Last Comes Love
by Mary Balogh
(Dell, 6.99, PG-13) ISBN  978-0440244240
I'm supposing that, like myself, many readers of Balogh's Huxtable quartet have especially looked forward to Meg's story - waiting for her to redeem herself for two novels' worth of "Poor Meg" status.  In At Last Comes Love, she finally gets her chance to show the world she isn't going to be pitiable, as well as her long-awaited chance to have a life of her own.

In her teens, Margaret vowed to her dying father that she would see her siblings safely grown.  Twelve years later, both of her sisters are married (one for a second time) and her brother has finally reached his majority.  Despite the fact that they grew up poor, they've done well for themselves: five years earlier, Stephen had inherited the title of Earl of Merton purely by an accident of birth. Now, with sisters Vanessa a duchess and Kate a baroness, Meg feels she is free to pursue her own happiness - but is it too late?  At thirty, she has already crossed the line into spinsterhood.  Thankfully, she would not be a burden to Stephen, but she desires a life, a home, a family of her own -- and not to live off of the mercies of his.

When, out of character, Meg informs her former lover Crispin Dew that she is engaged, she feels certain it will soon be true.  Of course, the Marquess of Allingham has proposed three times already and she has little reason to suspect that he won't again.  However, when she is approached by him at a ball her first night in London for the Season, he introduces her to his fiancée.  Meg is devastated - not because she was in love with him, but because now her foolishness will surely be revealed.

A chance encounter (she accidentally runs into him while fleeing the room) with London's most reviled son, Duncan Pennethorne, provides a brief respite: playing along after hearing her tale of woe, Duncan is presented to Crispin as Meg's betrothed.

Naturally, this throws London into an uproar and in short order, Duncan and Meg really do find themselves betrothed. This is perfect for Duncan, who had found himself cut off from his fortune by his grandfather due to lack of wife and heir.  Meg takes it as a sign, and the two are married just about as quickly as they were engaged.

Meg is willing to overlook Duncan's past, but when he tells her the truth behind it, she demands that he break his word to a dead woman to make his actions clearer to both his family and hers.  She adopts his illegitimate son without hesitation and throws herself into their new life.  She's under the impression that they're working toward being very happy together when another bit of truth from his past is thrown in her face - and all of her newfound trust goes out the window.

At Last Comes Love is definitely the best so far of the Huxtable novels.  Meg proves herself to be a worthy heroine and Duncan, with his dark past and well-kept secrets, is a fascinating leading man.  Their courtship - if it can be called that - is whirlwind and fun, taking both of them into realms neither had ever expected to visit.

--Sarrah Knight

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