This Victorian romance highlights some of the appalling inequities women - even wealthy women - faced in the time period, where everything a woman owned became the property of her husband on her marriage, among other issues. Grace’s father left her hefty dowry with a stipulation. She has to marry a peer, or she’ll never see a penny. With the guardianship of her young brother left to Lord Rayner, it’s very obvious Grace’s father intended her to marry the lord as well. Knowing Rayner’s awful character, though, Grace devises an alternate plan. She’ll find an impoverished lord and offer him a bargain - half her dowry for her freedom, and help winning her brother’s guardianship.
The Earl of Westbury, desperate for funds after a cattle plague wiped out his stocks, agrees to all her stipulations for a marriage of convenience, but adds one of his own… his people need some positive news. Grace must live with him for six weeks, and present a loving facade to outsiders.
I had a bit of a problem with this story, because right from the start Everett planned to deceive Grace. He needed her whole dowry, not half, and he fully intended to take it. He really didn’t give what she might want or need a second thought. And while he was decent in comparison to Rayner, that wasn’t saying much. Yes, Everett did understand the responsibilities of an estate, and he did accept that he had a cloak of privilege (Grace explaining it to him was one of the best parts of the book). Grace learning how to be a countess was really well written, especially as she came to understand it wasn’t that different to the responsibility she’d held before as manager of her father’s grocery chain.
Grace’s withholding of information came from a need for self-preservation. Everett’s came from… I still don’t quite know. Pride, I suppose, and therefore I felt a good deal less respect for him. In the end they both came clean, and Everett did grovel suitably. His decision to trust Grace’s business acumen to solve his problem was really pleasing, and in the end I guess the problem I have with the story isn’t anything about the writing, but about the realities of women’s rights in the time period. Therefore, I’m going to give it five stars, with the note that Everett will probably make you angry in the beginning but you’ll eventually forgive him. Stick with it for a great emotional reward.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley.