Spencer Law, Viscount Ravenswood first met Abigail Mercer while he was on a business trip with his younger brother, Nathaniel, in America. Stephen was quite taken with Abby, but left his burgeoning feelings to rot on the vine, since he has vowed never to marry. Unfortunately, he should have been more convincing about his wishes to his brother.
Several months later Abby and her maid arrive on Spencer’s doorstep in London making the most astonishing claim. Spencer and Abby are married! Seems the rascally Nat arranged a by proxy marriage and scurried off with Abby’s dowry. With Nat now missing, the couple finds themselves in a “pretend” marriage until Nat and the money can be recovered.
The wrinkle is that Abby honestly has feelings for Spencer and desires a “real” marriage. Spencer has feelings for Abby as well, but his belief that he must never marry has him acting like an ass for a goodly portion of the story. Unfortunately, it’s this behavior that ultimately sinks this otherwise engaging novel to a merely acceptable read.
Both Abby and Spencer suffer from serious communication problems. In fact, the entire conflict of the story results from their inability to actually sit down and really talk to each other. Spencer wants to keep Abby at arm’s length, but instead of being upfront with her he always manages to say the wrong thing. Abby, who is half-Seneca Indian, immediately jumps to the conclusion that Spencer “doesn’t want her as a wife” and would rather have a proper-bred, proper-mannered English Lady. However, instead of slapping his face, or kneeing him in the family jewels, over his insensitive remarks she continually strives to find ways to win his affection.
This miscommunication goes on for a long, long time. When it’s finally resolved within the last 100 pages, the conflict then moves on to trust issues. Stephen finally tells Abby why he “can never marry,” but then proceeds to insult her by having no faith in her character. The whole thing circles around and around like a drunken merry-go-round until the final chapter when Spencer realizes he’s an idiot.
This sort of conflict is manageable in small doses, but the 370+ pages of Married to the Viscount hinges on it, which ultimately detracts from several other well-done aspects of the story. There is a lovely secondary romance between brother Nat and his fiancée. There are several secondary characters, mostly women, who add a lovely dimension to the plot. The post-Regency time period was a nice change of pace, and the portrayal of King George IV was good fun. Last but not least, Jeffries has a lovely writing style. Against my better judgment, I was sucked into this story.
Unfortunately by the end of it all I was just plain tired of reading about a couple who seemed bound and determined to sabotage their potential happiness. If there is such a thing as a big misunderstanding plot done well I think Jeffries may have written one. However, for readers who find this sort of behavior frustrating no matter how well told the story, Married to the Viscount is most decidedly a coin toss.