|The Marriage Ring scores points for featuring a non-traditional couple. Richard Lynsted, age 29, manages his father’s and uncle’s business affairs and has amassed a tidy fortune along the way. He’s a sober, high-minded sort of fellow, one who works hard and doles out his life’s excitement in measured doses. Recently, for example, he’s taken to boxing at Gentleman Jackson’s saloon. Though he’s proven himself capable over and over again, Richard is still trying to win his father’s approval. When a blackmailer threatens his father, Richard sees his chance to save the day.
Richard’s biggest problem is the blackmailer herself: Grace MacEachin, a singer dubbed the “Scottish Songbird” by the London press. Grace makes no bones about her threats. Her father was accused of embezzling money from an elderly lady and was sent to a penal colony. In the ten years since, Grace left her home in Inverness, traveled to London, and became a successful actress. Grace believes her father was innocent and that Richard’s father and uncle were the real culprits, and she’s determined to wring a confession out of them.
Their first meeting ends in high drama, as Richard saves Grace from an assault by the theater manager. He walks her home and tries to get her to call off her blackmail attempt. No dice. Grace is not only unrepentant, she intends to travel back to Inverness and discover the truth from her own father, now returned and remarried. She challenges Richard to accompany her and find out the truth for himself.
Trying to be fair-minded, Richard agrees. His father and uncle supply a carriage and driver, but a hint of things to come arises when the men set upon Grace and Richard, apparently attempting to kill them. Things go awry, one of the servants dies, and now Richard and Grace are horseless, carriageless, far from Inverness, and Richard is being held for murder. In order to get out of this mess, they will need to depend on each other.
Much of this story was entertaining and original. Richard has no experience with women – and I mean none - and his fascination with the voluptuous Grace takes him by surprise. He already has a businesslike marriage all planned out, to a woman as proper and sober as he is. Grace, on the other hand, can’t believe she finds this man attractive. By any measure he should bore her to tears, but as they begin to talk, their loneliness is exposed and a nice romance begins to build. Grace feels that Richard would never marry a woman with some experience, leading to the predictable “well, I’d like to have one night with him” scene. Richard finds that one night of fun isn’t nearly enough, of course, and now his proper fiancée seems like exactly the wrong woman for him.
Richard and Grace are fun characters and worth getting to know. It’s not often that readers find a virgin hero paired with a sexually-experienced woman, and the author does a good job of showing us Richard’s amazement at the, um, joy of actual sex. Grace has some secrets in her past that will make readers empathize and not judge her too harshly. The fiancée bit is just a contrived roadblock and the story could have stood without it. Ditto the scene where Richard must use his boxing skills to save the day. This bit of convenience really had me rolling my eyes.
One thing I didn’t see coming was the truth about the old embezzlement crime, though hints are dropped throughout the story. The ending is certainly not what I expected, and the resolution of Grace’s relationship with her father was poignant.
The Marriage Ring isn’t perfect, but Grace and Richard are perfect for each other, and that’s what really counts in a romance, isn’t it?