Completely improbable and absolutely delightful: such is my shorthand reaction to Kasey Michaels’ new Regency historical romance.
Why improbable? Well, try to imagine this: an earl, a wealthy peer of the realm, is viciously attacked and nearly murdered by drowning in the Thames. He decides to fake his death so that he can find out who tried to kill him. Can you imagine that he could carry this off? That the entire large staff of his country home could keep such a secret? That he could reappear as his own heir and take up his “inheritance” without any legal proof of his right to ascend to both the title and the property? Neither can I.
Why delightful? Because Michaels has created an entertaining romance filled with quirky characters including a heroine whose imagination and ability to stretch the truth means that neither the hero nor the reader is ever quite sure what will happen next.
Brady James, Earl of Singleton, has watched his two best friends find wedded bliss and is increasingly dissatisfied with his tonnish life. Brady has one besetting vice: his curiosity. This had led him to investigate the tale told by Miss Regina Bliss, a young woman whom his friend Lady Willoughby had rescued from a life of begging and employed as a maid. Brady had been suspicious of the tale Regina told of being the daughter of a deceased vicar who had been turned out of her house and had made her way to London. Hence, he had gone to Little Woodcote to try to ferret out the truth.
Brady is convinced that his little investigation had led to his being attacked and nearly murdered. He has concocted his plan to reappear as his heir once he recovers from his wounds and he wants to take Regina along as his ward. So Regina comes to Singleton Chase to prepare for her role and to help nurse the earl back to health.
Slowly, very slowly, Brady draws a more truthful account of what happened to Regina’s parents that fateful night in Little Woodcote. Note that I say “more truthful.” Regina has her own secrets and reasons for keeping them and she also has her own reasons for wanting revenge on the men who nearly murdered the earl.
Brady decides that to carry off his masquerade, he needs a completely different persona. Thus is born Gawain Caradoc, dandy extraordinaire. As Brady moves through society as the “new” earl, he uncovers both his probable assailants and some home truths about many of the men whom he had once counted his friends.
The key to a successful romance is always the hero and heroine. Michaels has created two winning characters in Brady and Regina. He is intelligent, brave, handsome and personable. She is intelligent, beautiful, charming, and winning. She is also completely disingenuous, which only adds to her charm. The time they spend together planning
their masquerade gives them time to fall in love but their very different stations in life threaten their happily ever after.
The key to a successful romantic comedy is usually the set up and the secondary characters. Watching Brady first learn to act like a mincing dandy and then play his role in society provide plenty of funny moments. Likewise, the secondary characters including the familiar overbearing but kindly butler and the men from Regina’s past who end up helping with the scam are delightfully drawn.
Then Comes Marriage is the sequel to Michaels’ two previous novels. Both the hero and the heroine were obviously introduced in an earlier book However, Michaels succeeds in providing the necessary background for those who have not read the other books. I know because these remain unread on my “to-be-read” mountain and I had no trouble following and enjoying this sequel. Indeed, I enjoyed Then Comes Marriage so much that I plan to unearth the prequels - as soon as I finish my current reviewing duties.
I have not always been happy with the current tendency towards light and humorous romances. I do like a little angst now and then. But when someone does funny with as deft a touch as Michaels exhibits, I am happy to abandon my critical faculties and enjoy the ride. I certainly enjoyed Then Comes Marriage.