Willed to Wed by Wilma Counts
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6323-7
*****
As a die-hard fan of the Regency romance, I am always delighted when a promising new author appears, one who can tell a good story, create interesting characters, and who has a feel for the manners and mores of the time. Thus, I am pleased to report that we have a good one here. Wilma Counts’ first novel has everything a Regency fan could ask.

The plot is the old but beloved favorite, a “marriage of convenience.” The heroine is the just about on the shelf woman of intelligence and ability. The hero is the man who, betrayed by his first love, distrusts women. Counts uses these familiar ingredients to craft a most enjoyable romance.

Matthew Cameron has unexpectedly become the Earl of Markholme. A major in Wellington’s army, Matthew has come home to England both to carry the general’s dispatches and to deal with his affairs. These affairs are in bit of a muddle. His uncle has left the estate in poor shape. He has also made a most unusual provision in his will. The seventh earl is to marry Miss Sarah Longbourne, who, on their marriage, will possess the money needed to restore the Markholme fortunes. The new earl is not pleased.

Neither is Miss Sarah Longbourne. According to her grandfather’s will, should she refuse to marry the seventh Earl of Markholme, she and her two younger siblings will be left almost penniless. Of course, when the wills were written, the assumption was that Sarah would be marrying her childhood friend Robert Cameron. But the latter’s death had prevented the match. Now Sarah faces marrying a complete stranger.

Sarah and Matthew first meet in a most inauspicious manner. He almost runs her down while galloping down a country lane. Each discovers that their prospective spouse is much more attractive than either had hoped. Matthew discovers that Sarah is not the antidote he feared (even though she remains unmarried in her mid-twenties), but rather an attractive and intelligent young woman. Sarah discovers that Matthew is dashing, handsome, and kind. And so they agree to marry.

The appeal of the marriage of convenience plot is invariably watching the hero and heroine fall in love as they try to establish a relationship. Sarah and Matthew are fortunate in that they are physically compatible from the start. Indeed, Sarah is surprised by her response to her husband’s lovemaking while Matthew is delighted by wife’s passionate nature.

But, of course, there are difficulties to overcome. First, Matthew has very traditional views of a woman’s role, while Sarah has been accustomed to actively overseeing her grandfather’s estate. Then, there is the reappearance on the scene of the beautiful woman who ten years earlier jilted Matthew in order to marry a rich, older man.

Of course, one of the major hurdles to the course of true love in a marriage of convenience tale is the terms upon which the marriage began. When the couple have married on the understanding that theirs will be a practical partnership, if one or the other (or both) actually falls in love with their spouse, it becomes very difficult to admit their feelings.

Counts handles her story with a sure hand. The growing affection between Sarah and Matthew is very nicely developed as they get to know and admire each other. Likewise, the conflict which keeps the story moving is well done. In short, the behavior of the hero and heroine invariably makes sense, something which is not always the case.

Counts also includes a nice secondary romance between Sarah’s sister and Matthew’s young lieutenant. Her portrayal of Regency society is well drawn as she shows Matthew and Sarah trying to provide employment for those dependent on them and for the soldiers returning from the war.

As I recall my enjoyment of Willed to Wed, it occurs to me that I am going to want to read this book again. Thus, it will find a place on my keeper shelf. Which means I have to go up to the beginning of this review and change my rating from four to five hearts.

--Jean Mason


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