Series: Survivors' Club #2
Published by Dell on 2013-08-27
Genres: Historical Romance
Source: Goodreads giveaway
Also in this series: The Proposal, The Escape, Only Enchanting, Only a Promise
Also by this author: The Proposal, The Escape, Only Enchanting, The Heart of Christmas, Christmas Gifts, Christmas Miracles, Only a Promise, Someone To Love, Someone to Hold, Someone To Honor
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?
I love Mary Balogh’s books. I love her characters, and the depth of real feeling she imbues throughout. I love how meticulously researched they are, how her plots work with and within the mores and social strictures of the Regency period, and every detail rings true. Even her dialogue, which can sometimes sound stilted to our modern ears, is correct for the period, and I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy the nuances it can convey.
So when an advance copy of The Arrangement, Balogh’s first book since last year’s The Proposal, showed up on my doorstep, I was literally jumping up and down with glee. I dove right into it, completely ignoring my review schedule. And let me tell you, The Arrangement is delightful!
The main characters are imperfectly perfect, for the book as well as for each other. Vincent is kind and caring, a musician and storyteller, sensitive yet at the same time very masculine, and devastatingly handsome. I’d fall for him myself, if I weren’t happily married! He’s also blind (the result of a war injury), and his blindness combined with his youth have made him rather shy of asserting himself. He longs for more independence than his loving and well-meaning female relations have given him, but he doesn’t want to hurt their feelings. But when they choose a bride for him — a bride who understands and doesn’t mind that he is blind (though clearly she does) — well, that’s going too far. Taking only his groom and his valet and friend Martin, Vincent flees his grand estate and ends up in the village where he grew up.
Sophia describes herself as a mouse. Orphaned at 15, she has been given a roof and very little else by a succession of relatives, all of whom alternately ignore and disdain her. She believes herself ugly, and has learned to be silent and almost invisible in any company — though she quietly and wittily caricatures them all in her notebooks. But Sophia can’t ignore her aunt’s and cousin’s blatant attempt to force Lord Darleigh into marriage. When her effort on his behalf ends with her ejection from their home, Vincent, with characteristic impulsiveness, proposes marriage as a solution to both their problems. Lacking any alternative, Sophia reluctantly agrees.
There are no mysteries or major secrets or terrible misunderstandings in The Arrangement, just two strangers learning to like and trust and ultimately love one another. What makes the book so wonderful is the developing relationship between them, and the way in which each of them tries to free the other from the things that hold them back — Vincent’s blindness and Sophia’s lack of confidence. Theirs may be an arranged marriage, but they’re both determined to make it work and to do their best by the other. We see several of the other members of the Survivors’ Club, good friends of Vincent’s, and their acceptance and support stand the couple in good stead. Lady Gwendolyn Muir, now Lady Trentham (see The Proposal) plays an important if transitory role, but ultimately the focus is on Sophia and Vincent. The result is a richly satisfying romance, one which I know I’ll read more than once.
ETA (11/7/14): I have re-read The Arrangement since writing this review, and have bumped my 4.5 star rating to 5.