No Marriage of Convenience is a change of pace for author Elizabeth Boyle. Her first three novels were filled with adventure and intrigue. This book might better be described as a romp, although it does have a bit of suspense as the heroine finds her life in danger because of secrets from the past.
This secret is actually revealed in the prologue. Her we see a proud and inflexible countess sentence her pregnant daughter to exile. Although Elise had married her child’s father, he was socially inferior to a girl who is a countess in her own right. Since he is dead and there is no proof of their short marriage, the countess has decided to send her daughter to France to bear her child in secret. She suggests that her daughter name the unwanted child Riley, after the family dog.
Twenty-six years later, in 1798, Mason St. Clair, the new Earl of Ashlin, encounters Madame Riley Fontaine, a notorious actress of considerable talent. Mason inherited his title seven months earlier, when his spendthrift brother was killed in a carriage accident. Before that unhappy day, Mason was an Oxford don, happy in his quiet, scholarly life. Now he finds himself encumbered with a pile of debts, three incorrigible nieces and his dotty Cousin Felicity.
It turns out that Riley owes the Earl a considerable sum of money which she cannot repay until her next production opens. So Cousin Felicity comes up with the implausible idea that Madame Fontaine should instruct the nieces in the skills needed to attract a man. In their current unpolished and unruly state, they are unlikely to ever find husbands. Riley is not wild about the idea, but she has no choice.
Mason is a man who cherishes order and proper behavior above all else, mostly in reaction to the wild behavior of his father and brother. Yet he finds himself unwillingly attracted to the lovely actress, especially when he discovers how hard she has worked to achieve her current success and how overstated her reputation indeed is. For her part, Riley finds the earl surprisingly intriguing. His very solidity has an appeal, given her harsh and insecure life. And when she finds herself unexpectedly kissing him in a closet, well, the man certainly can kiss.
The episode in the closet is an example of how Boyle makes her story humorous. Riley and Mason are in the closet to hide the fact that the notorious Madame Fontaine is tutoring the St. Clair sisters. Much of the comic relief in the story comes from the clash of the world of the ton and that of the stage. Particularly humorous is Cousin’s Felicity’s
fascination with Agammenon Pettibone, Riley’s rapscallion friend.
The plot of No Marriage of Convenience probably doesn’t bear careful scrutiny. It is undoubtedly completely and totally improbable and certainly is not easy to describe. Suffice it to say that by the time the book ends, four different couples have headed off to Gretna Green, the villain has been thwarted, the earl has recovered his fortune in a most unlikely way, and Riley has been restored to her rightful position in society. Whew!
Still, the fact remains that No Marriage of Convenience kept me turning the pages and that when I finished the last line, I was smiling broadly. So if you want a light-hearted historical romance that will provide you with a few hours of entertainment, then you should enjoy this book.