His Unexpected Bride
by Jo Ann Ferguson
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-8396-3
**
Tess Masterson awakens to find Cameron Hawksmoor, marquess of Hawksmoor, son of the late Duke of Hawkington and brother of the current duke in her bed. To their shock, they are informed by her father and Cameronís friend Eustace Knox that they were married the previous night. Cameron was so worse for drink he has no memory of the ceremony; Tess was married by proxy and not present. Cameron is insistent that he will go to London and straighten this all out. Mr. Masterson is equally insistent that Tess accompany him. If the marriage is annulled, Tessís reputation will be ruined, and no other man will have her. Before they leave, her father divulges to Tess that Eustace Knox blackmailed him into permitting the marriage for unknown reasons.

When Tess and Cameron consult a lawyer in London, they learn the marriage cannot be annulled. The only way to end the marriage is divorce which will require Cameron to accuse Tess of adultery. Cameron is not willing to take that action but still hopes to end the marriage.

Months pass as they live separate lives under the same roof with their situation unresolved. Cameronís brother and his mistress are killed in a carriage accident making Cameron the duke and Tess the duchess. Going over his brotherís financial accounts, Cameron discovers a monthly payment. It appears his brother was being blackmailed. Cameron is determined to uncover the circumstances behind the blackmail and his brotherís death before making a decision about his marriage. Tess cannot help but wonder: was the previous dukeís blackmail connected to the blackmail that led her father to allow her marriage?

The marriage of inconvenience plot provides an opportunity for the hero and heroine to battle against their circumstances and each other while being irresistibly drawn together. Since theyíre already married, succumbing to their mutual attraction doesnít require a quick detour to the altar. Itís a setup that can work if the hero and heroine are obviously tempted to take advantage of the situation. Itís not enough theyíre sleeping under the same roof Ė they need to want to sleep under the same covers. What His Unexpected Bride lacks is sexual tension. A G-rated story means no more than kisses, but it doesnít mean the hero and heroine are dispassionate. Tess and Cameron live side by side for months and may as well be roommates for all the heat they generate and all the fooling around they do. When Tess decides sheís falling in love with him, the big question is what took so long. Heís responsible, honorable, respectful, good looking, a military hero, and a duke. It takes her months to figure out this guyís a good catch? On the other hand, whatís to fall in love with? Heís more interested in his plant samples than in the heroine.

Cameronís obsession with settling his brotherís affairs is his professed reason for allowing their personal situation to remain in suspension for so long. Or maybe itís just that heís testosterone-challenged and any excuse works. Heís remained good friends with his former mistress even though she has a new protector and visits her several times to chat. He appears to have a stronger relationship with her than he wants to establish with his wife.

Tess is no more dynamic than Cameron. She allows their unresolved marriage to drift for months. Sheís living with him in connecting bedrooms, and her most pressing interest is the whereabouts of her pet hedgehog which escapes from its cage on repeated occasions. I have serious concerns for the ducal succession with two such passive characters.

Readers who enjoy the possibilities of marriage of inconvenience story lines may want to think twice before getting this version. His Unexpected Bride doesnít meet expectations.

--Lesley Dunlap


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