Mostly Married is Lisa Manuel’s debut novel. The story begins in St. Abbs, Scotland in 1823. Lucas Holbrook, the Duke of Wakefield, wakes with a terrible headache from what he assumes was a late night of drinking. The only problem is he can’t remember. Suddenly he realizes he doesn’t know where he is. The naked woman in bed with him, Charity Fergusson, claims she is his wife. But he doesn’t have any memory of her or the farm they call home in Scotland. He is the Duke of Wakefield and needs to be in England with his family and his fiancée, Helena.
To her horror, Charity realizes that her beloved husband lost part of his memory when he was hit over the head with a bottle the night before. She explains to Lucas that her family rescued him more than a year before from a shipwreck. He would have died if they hadn’t nursed him back to health. At that time he couldn’t remember who he was or where he was from, so they came up with a name for him, Luke Martin. They quickly fell in love and got married. They live on the farm they created from Charity’s dower portion of her family’s property.
It is a stretch for the reader to believe that this poor guy has had amnesia twice and conveniently forgets his recent life both times, but the author is so skilled at telling the story that the reader probably won’t do anything but question this just briefly and then let it go.
Lucas stays for a few days until he’s well enough to travel home. He bids farewell to Charity and travels back to England to let his family know he’s alive and to reclaim the title of duke from his younger brother, who surely would have taken his place upon the assumption of his death. Lucas also makes it clear that as soon as he returns home he will ask his solicitor to prepare annulment papers based on the fact that he lost his memory and didn’t know he was a duke. Charity is utterly heartbroken. The author does an incredible job creating these two characters and crafting the scene where she says goodbye to her husband Luke, who seems not to exist any more. It’s heart-wrenching, and the reader will certainly want a box of tissues on hand. There’s one quote in particular that just leaps off the pages right into the reader’s heart as Charity is saying her last words before Lucas leaves for England:
“When the annulment papers free you to remarry…and when you take a new, noble bride, remember that Charity Fergusson loved and wanted only the man. Not the title. Not the inheritance. Not the connections. Only the man.”
Charity later decides to fight for her husband and leaves for England, where she takes up residence in the abandoned vicarage next to the Holbrook estate. She pretends to be an English lady (with a fake English accent, proper lady’s wardrobe and manners) and quickly becomes a beloved friend to the ladies of the Holbrook household, to Lucas’s dismay. He feels responsible to Helena, since they are planning to wed in spite of everything that has happened. And he still doesn’t remember Charity being his wife, or even how he got to Scotland in the first place. But he finds himself strongly attracted to her.
All the females of the Holbrook family are charming and lovable; even Lucas‘s fiancée, Helena, is an easy character to like. Helena lives as part of the Holbrook family and is always present. It’s very intriguing to watch Helena and Charity become good friends, while both are vying for Lucas’s attentions. Poor Lucas doesn’t know what to do and is constantly conflicted with both women so close.
There are some mysteries within the story as well. How did Lucas get to Scotland? Why does it seem that Helena is trying to set Lucas and Charity up together? Why does Lucas’s brother appear to be angry all the time? And is someone trying to kill Lucas, or is it just a string of coincidental accidents? All the elements of the story (the romance, the mystery, the characters) are spun together with such skill that it all just streams from the pages with no effort from the reader.
Mostly Married is a wonderful story filled with a roller coaster of emotion unlike any other book I‘ve read. I’m looking forward to reading more novels by Lisa Manuel in the near future.