|Sorry, Madeline Hunter fans, Provocative in Pearls didn’t provoke me to do anything except set the book aside. This one was a chore to finish.
Grayson Bridlington, the Earl of Hawkeswell, married Miss Verity Thompson for her immense fortune, a fortune he needed to stave off his creditors and rebuild his estate. Verity, however, slipped away after the ceremony and he hasn’t seen her since. Bits of her wedding attire were found on the banks of the Thames, leading everyone to assume she’d drowned. But no body was recovered, so Verity can’t be declared dead, Hawkeswell can’t annul the marriage, and her fortune hasn’t been released for Hawkeswell’s use. Two years later, he’s just as broke as ever, and his estate is in shambles. Plus, society is making jokes at his expense.
Hawkeswell is stunned to stumble across Verity very much alive and well, living in the countryside with several other women and growing plants. Verity distrusts Hawkeswell, believing he was a partner with her scheming, social-climbing cousin in arranging their marriage when she was a minor and had no control over it. Her resentment and fury over being virtually sold into marriage for her money were what caused her to run away. Verity’s plan was to hide out in the countryside until she turned twenty-one, then petition for an annulment and take control of her inheritance. Only the threat of bodily force makes her agree to return to him. Hawkeswell, who wants a pliable, obedient wife, is sure he can seduce her into compliance. He proposes that Verity grant him three kisses a day, nothing more.
Verity is not of the nobility, which concerns her greatly when she thinks of taking her place in society as a countess. Her father made a fortune in ironworks, and passed his secret for a metal lathing bit to Verity, his only heir. She owns the majority of the works, but her petty cousin Bertram manages it – the same cousin who arranged her marriage. The same cousin who took Verity in when her father died, then proceeded to heap abuse on her. Now she’s married to an arrogant, rather smug lord who expects her to do as she’s told, and whose primary interest is her fortune.
Verity and Hawkeswell are true to the time period, but neither one is very likable. Verity comes across as monumentally self-centered; even after Hawkeswell explains the problems on his estate and that his tenants are truly suffering, it barely registers with her. The three kisses soon advance to a full consummation of their marriage, so an annulment is now out of the question. Verity decides that if she can’t get Hawkeswell to do what she wants, she’ll use sex to coerce him – not an admirable plan. Hawkeswell, in between ordering Verity around, is happy to be seduced. These two had virtually no emotional connection or chemistry, no matter how hot the sex, and at the end of the book, I had no faith in their professed love for one another. I didn’t feel they knew each other at all. And Hawkeswell’s autocratic behavior wore thin quickly.
A secondary plot regarding the disappearance of some of the ironworkers – Verity’s former friends – is well handled and has enough historical detail to make things interesting. Madeline Hunter has a lovely descriptive writing style, and these passages are some of the best in the book. There’s also a poignant section where Verity realizes that you can’t go home again, and it’s well done. Verity is hiding some real pain. Too bad she can’t explain it to her husband outside of the bedroom.
Overall, Provocative in Pearls was a disappointment. I’ll probably try to find the rest of the books in this series to see how the secondary characters turn out, especially the dissolute Duke of Castleford, but I’m quite happy to leave Verity and her domineering earl behind.