Imagine this: flawed, guarded gentleman meets innocent and desperate maiden, resulting in high adventure and romance and covering familiar territory for romance readers. In fact The Wedding Escape brings to mind a novel with similarities-- Laura Kinsale’s The Shadow and the Star.
Scotsman Jack Kent decides to take time from his shipping business to spend a few days with family in England. His family was first introduced in Monk’s The Prisoner, in which Genevieve MacPhail Kent takes urchins off the street and adopts them as her own. Jack is the oldest of her foundlings, and he’s working hard to live down his checkered past. The Kents attend the wedding of the elderly, impoverished Duke of Whitcliffe and his wealthy young American bride. There is a delay in the proceedings and as the guests are left to sit in the sweltering heat, Jack retreats to his carriage to wait it out.
19-year-old Amelia Belford is her family’s sacrificial lamb. She’s been offered to the Duke in order to gain social clout for her family. Her parents are unaware that she is secretly engaged to Percy Baring, Viscount Philmore. So on her wedding day Amelia escapes through an upper church window, wedding dress and all. She tumbles rather inelegantly into some shrubs below.
Jack looks on in fascination then is surprised when the bride bustles into his carriage, not realizing he’s inside. Amelia appeals to Jack for help, desperate to leave before her frantic family and angry groom find her. Unmoved by Amelia’s pleas at first, Jack resists until her anguish finally strikes a nerve in him and he decides to help her.
At 36, Jack is much older than Amelia and his initial response is that of a protective older brother.
Amelia wants to be reunited with her viscount. Jack determines to help her until he discovers a few choice things about Percy. The fact is Percy has already latched on to another unsuspecting American heiress. Amelia’s dreams are dashed and Jack realizes his problem has taken on new proportions. He doesn’t want to surrender Amelia to her fate with Whitcliffe, but can’t imagine what else to do.
Much of this story is told from Jack’s point of view, which works very well to dispel reader unrest about the characters’ age difference. He doesn’t seek a romantic relationship with Amelia initially. One of the story’s best features is the way in which Jack and Amelia fall in love over time and acquaintance rather than reacting to animal attraction. It’s a big age difference, but wasn’t it common enough to see such matches in those days? I liked their interaction very much.
Amelia vacillates between impetuous bravery and resigned acquiescence. Still, she acts a lot like a 19-year-old woman in 1883 might be expected to act, and where Jack’s concerned she shows enough assertiveness to get his attention. Her sweetness attracts Jack, perhaps because he feels so jaded. I wished that she were not so cowed by people around her, and in need of regular rescuing. Jack and Amelia both tend to be a little insecure, but this contributes to their need for each other.
This is a novel where some characters deliver dialogue that seems suited to the period and others don’t, such as when they make reference to being able to “get a job” and Amelia having a “career”. Oops. Then there is the fact that Jack has a fondness for strong drink. I can appreciate that alcohol makes a great plot device for eliminating inhibitions and explaining behavior that’s out of character, but a drinking problem is just not romantic. There are plenty of colorful characters in the wings of the plot but I was thankful that the author kept them reined in. I liked the interaction between Jack and Amelia too much to want to get sidetracked. At some point Jack’s family still get to showcase their unique personalities without taking over the story.
A friend of mine saw the book on my kitchen counter and laughed at the title. I happen to find this title very ‘Heyer-esque’. It seems to me that a lot of those stories involved much older heroes and one even has a heroine climbing from high windows. But it’s not surprising that today’s authors might draw inspiration from the very best. These types of characters apparently work for me on some level, and I will continue to read more by this author.