~ Enjoyable romance where prim and proper English widow meets a charming and teasing American sea captain / heir to a dukedom (4 stars) ~
I have just recently discovered Debra Mullins' books and of the three of hers that I have read so far, A NECESSARY HUSBAND is my favorite. The other two I read were JUST ONE TOUCH, which I liked and would recommend, and SCANDAL OF THE BLACK ROSE, which I didn't and wouldn't.
At the age of 18, Lucinda Northcott let her foolish trust and young love for Malcolm Devering, Viscount Arndale, lead her to an indiscretion and an unhappy marriage ... When her father, General Northcott, discovers she and Malcolm embracing, he insists that the proper thing be done. Arndale's father, the Earl of Witting, does not want his heir to marry the daughter of a mere general, however, and so instead plans are made for her to marry Malcolm's younger brother, Harry. The marriage is a loveless one and after the first year, Lucinda and Harry lead separate lives, no longer sharing a house nor a marriage bed.
When the story takes place, Lucinda is 29 years old and has been a widow for a year, her husband having died in a scandalous manner in his mistress' bed. Ever since the fateful night of her indiscretion, Malcolm has pursued her with an almost obsessive fervor, wanting to finish what they started despite the fact that she became his sister-in-law. Harry's death left behind a mountain of debts that Lucinda has no way to repay, having already sold their country home, her widow's pension, and almost all their worldly goods. By rights Malcolm should pay the debts since he was Harry's brother, but he blackmails Lucinda and says he won't pay them until she becomes his mistress. Lucinda will do anything to avoid this fate ...
Society knows nothing of what triggered Lucinda's marriage to Harry, nor does the ton know that she is financially destitute - all they see is a woman whose husband's behavior was shameful and who is thought of as a "paragon of dignified propriety," an image she has done much to cultivate ever since her recklessly giving in to passion led to her unhappy marriage. This reputation has led the Duke of Raynewood to "hire" her to help with the come out of his newly arrived American granddaughter, Meg Lynch (22) - he didn't so much hire her as blackmail her, saying that if she doesn't help in making Meg a success, he will let people know about her financial situation; if she does succeed, however, he will pay off Harry's debts.
Captain Garret Lynch (30) wants nothing to do with his grandfather, from whom his family has been estranged all his life - ever since his father married his mother, a young Irish woman whom the Duke didn't approve of, and moved to America. However, he has no choice but to sail for England when news of his mother's death reaches him while he is on one of his six ships, for he learns that following their mother's death, Meg left America to meet the grandfather they have never known. He intends to go there, pick up his sister, and depart immediately, however even the best laid plans can go awry ...
Though neither the Duke nor Meg seem tos happy with his arrival once they learn why he is there, Garrett is more focused on the attractive prim and proper young widow who is residing with them, Mrs. Lucinda Devering. The Duke's older son has died without heirs, leaving Garrett as his only chance to continue the family line, and although the sea captain is determined to spurn his English heritage and remain American through and through, the Duke is equally determined to see otherwise and adds him as one of Lucinda's charges (not much teaching really occurs and although the back summary leads one to believe that's what their interactions mainly consist of at the beginning, it's not accurate).
And so the battle begins, for what is a handsome and charming American sea captain to do when faced with a proper and reputation-obsessed young English woman but try to seduce her? The battle of wits and teasing that takes place between Lucinda and Garrett is highly entertaining and they do have chemistry, though IMO this is not Mullins' strong suit.
COMMENTS (praise and criticism):
~ Lady Agatha, the Duke's sister, is a great character and definitely adds to the book; I wish that she had had a larger role as I would have liked to see more of her.
~ Malcolm is an effective and well-done villain.
~ Mullins often includes a secondary romance and the one in this book was entertaining and had great potential, but Lady Penelope was a vapid, boring, and somewhat mindless character, which (what a surprise!) detracted from it.
~ I'm highly partial to epilogues and Mullins never includes them; since her novels end somewhat too abruptly for me, they could definitely be useful.
~ I was *extremely* bothered by Lucinda's determination to marry in order to secure her future and her opinion that she has no other options. When Garrett points out that she is being somewhat mercenary and could always work, she responds that that would ruin her family's name and reputation - very irksome! Fortunately, part of the evolution of the story is her transformation in realizing that society's opinion and one's so-called reputation should not be uppermost in her mind and finally decides they are not as important as she once thought them to be.
Other historical romances that use the theme of the heroine having to teach or instruct the hero in some manner (though like I said, this book shouldn't really fall into that category) include: THE PROPOSITION by Judith Ivory, WHERE DREAMS BEGIN by Lisa Kleypas, and RULES OF SURRENDER (Governess Brides, Book 1) by Christina Dodd - three of my favorite historical romances of all time; and MY FAIR TEMPTRESS (Governess Brides, Book 7) by Christina Dodd - the only one of these books I have not yet read.
A NECESSARY HUSBAND is an enjoyable read and I would recommend it. I hate to add a but ... but (lol): In the three Debra Mullins books I have read, even though I found two of them enjoyable there is a certain spark, an indescribable something, that I find missing in her work. The relationships she writes do not have the depth or complexity that I prize in Mary Balogh's work, nor do they have the chemistry and sensuality that I love in Lisa Kleypas'. I love these types of plots though (kind of on-the-shelf woman who thinks she's unattractive is charmed and teased by straight-forward rogue), so I would say that this book is definitely worth a weekend afternoon.