I always know when a book has grabbed me when I keep on thinking about
the characters after I’ve finished that final page. Since I went to
sleep last night imagining Brenn’s and Tess’s lives in the “happily ever
after,” I can only conclude that Cathy Maxwell sucked me completely into
her story and characters.
The title, Married in Haste is most apt. Here we have two people
who meet, feel a clear attraction for each other, and find themselves
married within one short week. Each has a secret that the other had no
opportunity to discover. These secrets imperil the marriage.
Tess Hamlin is known to the London ton as “the Incomparable.” Despite
her blazing red hair, she is also called “the Ice Maiden” because in the
four years since she was presented, she has rejected suitors too
numerous to mention. Beautiful, witty and wealthy, she has thus far
found no man for whom she is willing to give up her freedom. Her
brother and trustee is too fond of his sister to force her to wed,
despite the urgings of his selfish wife who wishes her out of the
Tess is introduced to the reader in one of the most arresting opening
scenes I have come across in a while. She storms into the lady’s
retiring room at a London ball to defend her friend Anne against the
machinations of one of the ton’s other reigning beauties who has
heartlessly flirted with the man Anne hoped to marry.
Tess forces all the young women there to come to terms with the reality
of their situation:
Is it right that they consider us little more than ornaments or bank
accounts or brood mares?. . . . In the last two hours, have any of you
had an escort ask you about yourself? No, of course not. They rattle
on and on about their interests and their pursuits, but they don’t care
anything about us other than our appearances -- and our dowries. Worse,
most gentlemen believe you are fortunate they’ve even bothered to notice
The truth of Tess’s complaint being universally acknowledged, the young
women agree on a wager to see who that night will be the first to
receive an offer.
Upon leaving the retiring room, Tess notices an unfamiliar and
interesting face. It is Brenn Owen, the new Earl of Merton. She
arranges an introduction, even seeking the assistance of the
scandal-mongering Deland Godwin.
A war injury having left the earl unable to dance, they take a turn
around the terrace. Imagine Tess’s surprise when Brenn, rather than
rattling on about his own interests or his heroic war record, asks her
about herself. This pleasant interlude is interrupted when news of the
girls’ improper wager sweeps the ballroom.
Ruin seems to face Tess when Brenn steps into the breech and makes an
offer. To Tess’s amazement, her brother Neil accepts the offer and
instructs Brenn to procure a special license. The wedding will take
place within the week.
When Tess confronts Neil with her refusal to be forced into marriage,
her brother informs her that he has lost her fortune through bad
investments. If she doesn’t marry the Earl of Merton, she will never
marry and the family will be ruined. And so she agrees, hoping for the
What Tess doesn’t realize is that Brenn has come to London to seek a
rich wife. So the wedding takes place and the couple head off for Wales and to
their respective moments of truth.
The success of any romance depends on the characters and Maxwell has
created a most appealing hero and heroine. Tess is a complex mix of
wisdom and innocence. (Her efforts to discover what really happens on
the wedding night are both humorous and poignant.) She quickly falls
under the sensual spell of her husband, but her pleasant dreams are
rudely shattered and she must learn what really matters in life. She
grows up quickly and effectively. Brenn is a man who has never had a home and whose dreams are all centered on restoring Erwynn Keep.
One of the most important facets of any romance is the author’s ability
to convince the reader that the hero and heroine will indeed live
happily ever after. Maxwell certainly made a believer of me. Tess was
searching for a life with meaning and she finds it. Brenn was searching
for a home and love and he finds it. Tess and Brenn may have Married
in Haste, but they do not repent, and neither will the reader who
picks up this book.