Breathless) but has written two other "keepers" in the Bat Cave stash (To Dream Again and Conor's Way) - I'm always afraid I'll judge Laura Lee Guhrke, perhaps unfairly, based on her past performances and my expectations. I started When The Marquess Met His Match, her first new release in two years, with some hesitancy. I mean, if I don't love it to bits, does that make the book a failure? The answer is, of course, no. I liked it. I really did like it. I didn't outright love it - but it's still a good read.
Lady Belinda Featherstone is a young widow, which is just the way she likes it. Her family was "new money" back in the US, which means none of the snooty blue bloods there would even bother to look her way. So when a dashing British nobleman sweeps her off her feet, she falls head over heels and agrees to marry him. Only to find out after the fact that he doesn't feel the same way about her and married her only for her sizable dowry. When her husband dies while in the arms of his latest mistress, Belinda is left with nothing. Charles burned through her dowry and Daddy lost the family fortune in the last stock market crash. So Belinda must rely on her friends, her connections and luck - making herself over as a matchmaker. She pairs up lovely American heiresses who cannot crack society at home, with British lords looking for an influx of cash. Belinda, naturally, gets a finder's fee, and everything is going along swimmingly - until Nicholas, Marquess of Trubridge shows up at her door.
Nicholas has been living in Paris for the last several years and is great chums with Belinda's brother-in-law. It's a connection that does not serve him well, given that their collective reputations precede them. Deeply estranged from his father (a Duke), Nicholas is home to fetch a bride because Daddy has cut off his trust fund. Nicholas has spent his entire life doing whatever will displease his father the most, so he gets it in his head to marry an American heiress - then he can tell Daddy to go to the devil. The problem is that he needs Belinda's help and she seems rather disinclined to do so.
I've always felt Guhrke is a bit under appreciated, skill-wise, as a writer - and the reasons that make her really good are on display here. She excels at writing adversarial relationships. The kind of romances where the hero and heroine are at odds, do a lot of verbal sparring, and try to one-up each other for a good portion of the story. These are not easy to write, with many a writer trying to pull it off and leaving the reader feeling like they just spent 300+ pages with jackasses. Guhrke has a way of writing these types of stories with a lot of verve and spunk. Part of the reason she excels at this is because of her characters. Her characters tend to be practical, forthright people - but with mountains of hidden, aching vulnerabilities. Her very best stories, in my estimation, feature heroines who aren't stupid, know the way the world works, put on a brave face for the world - but hide a lot of inner pain.
Both Nicholas and Belinda have their hidden vulnerabilities. Nicholas has major Daddy Issues, and basically plays the rake to show the man that he cannot control him. Belinda put her heart on the line and had her girlhood dreams of the fairy tale crushed by her rat-bastard husband. They both worked for me as characters, but they're not always easy people to like. Nicholas makes no bones about wanting to marry for money, but at least he's honest about it. Belinda is a bit more troublesome. For someone who had her naivete soullessly crushed, you'd think she'd be a bit more practical. She's appalled that a blatant fortune hunter like Nicholas would dare darken her doorstep. I mean, really sweetheart? What about all those other men sniffing around the girls you are helping make matches? Just because they aren't honest about wanting to marry for money doesn't make them somehow better. Again, at least Nicholas is honest. Given her track record to have Belinda still holding on to romantic ideals strained for me.
But they make up for it with their banter. If this were the 20th century Nicholas and Belinda would have been cast in a Spencer Tracy / Katharine Hepburn picture. The verbal sparring is top-notch, and once the two strike up a bargain (of sorts) that doesn't put an end to the games. And what does verbal sparring really mean? Yeah, foreplay. Basically Nicholas and Belinda spend a big chunk of this story in a long dance on the way to hitting the sheets.
It's a quick, lively read featuring two spunky characters. I wasn't madly in love with it, but I did finish the whole affair positively chomping at the bit to get my hands on the next book in the series. The author does a good job of setting up her future books without being excessively intrusive, and given the brief glimpses of Edie in this story? May cannot get here soon enough.
Final Grade = B-