17 October 2013

The Arrangement (The Survivors' Club #2)

Summary from Goodreads:

Desperate to escape his mother’s matchmaking, Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, flees to a remote country village. But even there, another marital trap is sprung. So when Miss Sophia Fry’s intervention on his behalf finds her unceremoniously booted from her guardian’s home, Vincent is compelled to act. He may have been blinded in battle, but he can see a solution to both their problems: marriage.

At first, quiet, unassuming Sophia rejects Vincent’s proposal. But when such a gloriously handsome man persuades her that he needs a wife of his own choosing as much as she needs protection from destitution, she agrees. Her alternative is too dreadful to contemplate. But how can an all-consuming fire burn from such a cold arrangement? As friendship and camaraderie lead to sweet seduction and erotic pleasure, dare they believe a bargain born of desperation might lead them both to a love destined to be?

[Note: I did not manage to save my review of The Proposal, the first book in this series, but I do recommend it.]

Vincent, Viscount Darleigh, has had enough - his well-meaning but overbearing mother has equated his blindness with mental deficiency (not to mention that he is now titled and rich) and has decided that he needs a wife in short order. Vincent escapes to a small village with only his valet as company to enjoy a little peace and quiet. It doesn't last. When the neighborhood nest of viperish social climbers decides to trap him into marriage he is soon rescued - by the quiet, unassuming, and very poor Sophia Fry, who is the companion to the intended young lady (I use "lady" loosely). For her basic human decency, Sophia is flung out onto the streets. Vincent seizes the opportunity - he doesn't really want to be married and neither does Sophia yet a marriage of convenience will protect each of them from relatives (and Sophia from destitution). He proposes the arrangement and offers that they will separate after enough time has passed that the marriage cannot be legally questioned or over-turned. Sophia will have the protection of his name and income and Vincent will have some peace.

Love comes in and upsets the apple cart, of course. Sophia determines that before she leaves that Vincent is as self-sufficient as possible; she devises the Regency version of a seeing-eye dog and a track to enable him to ride his horse unassisted. Vincent gives Sophia the confidence to become an independent woman. Most fascinating is that Vincent's blindness is total, his sight will never recover unlike many other blind/partially blind heroes, and so any love that Vincent feels for Sophia develops from their interactions and her personality rather than her looks.

This is a much stronger novel from Mary Balogh than The Proposal. The plot is a bit tighter, the stakes are a bit higher for the hero and heroine, and the resolution is much more satisfying. However, there are a few minor points that could have been better. The actual agree-to-separate-later portion of the proposal scene sounded quite hollow and years of childhood trauma and neglect seemed suddenly forgotten with a good haircut, nice clothes, an attentive husband, and a well-placed punch to the face (though, the punch was very well-deserved, so that's less problematic). On the whole, a good installment to the Survivor's Club series. I'm looking forward to the next one.

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