The Admiral’s Penniless Bride

The Admiral's Penniless BrideBy Carla Kelly

Publisher: Harlequin
Publication Date: January 1, 2011
Genre: Historical Romance
Source: Purchased

Sally Paul is down to her last penny. As she spends it on a cup of tea–to stave off being at the mercy of the workhouse–the last thing she expects is an offer of marriage…from a complete stranger
Admiral Sir Charles Bright’s seafaring days are over–and according to society, that must mean he’s in need of a wife Discovering Sally’s in need of a home, he offers a solution…. They marry in haste–but will they enjoy their wedding night at leisure?

Goodreads Summary

File this under “strange things that made me want to read something.”  The guy on the cover of this?  Has a hand where a hook should be.  It’s been a topic of discussion around a few web water coolers and if not for that I’d never have even looked at this since Regency romances haven’t necessarily been something I sought out since I was secretly reading those scandalous Barbara Cartland books  (that was a really long time ago).  I know I’ve read something where the hero’s missing part of a leg and definitely more than one with a hero who’s missing an eye but a hook sounded new.  This turned out to be very sweet in that particular way that only a Regency can be and I like Kelly’s style.  But how cool is a hook in a romance?

Sally Paul has made a recent career out of being a companion to elderly ladies.  The problem is that it isn’t terribly long after she starts her employment with them that she becomes unemployed again due to easily foreseen circumstances.  At present, she’s nursing a cup of tea and woe: her prospective charge hadn’t even bothered waiting for her to arrive before dying and the woman’s family had no interest in even paying Sally to get back to where she came from.

Admiral Charles Bright is sitting a few tables away nursing his own tea and woe.  He’s waiting for The Mouse (Prunella Batchthorpe, a lovely name you’d only find in a Regency), a plain-faced spinster who’s agreed to marry him to get his matchmaking sisters to leave him alone.  She’s late and now he’s having second, third and fourth thoughts about tying himself to a fairly unpleasant and tardy person.  Seeing Sally, recognizing someone as desperate as he is and being utterly charmed by her, he impulsively asks her to marry him in The Mouse’s place.  Sally eventually agrees – her situation is dire enough that she’s sleeping on a church pew – but there’s a painful piece of her past that she doesn’t want anyone to know about.  She goes out of her way to hide it from Charles by taking her prior marriage certificate and notice of her husband’s death to the vicar so he can handle the paperwork for their special license and asks that her maiden name be used on the license because of her distress over the way he died.

This is a fairly gentle love story between two somewhat older people (she’s 32, he’s 45) who’ve both lived difficult lives.  They banter about the little things, like what to call each other: he sees on their marriage license that her name’s Sophia so he calls her that, but she can’t decide whether to call him Mr. Bright, Admiral, Charles or Charlie so she alternates between the four.  Small things like his bringing her tea in the morning become a type of courting ritual, as does her offhand way of dealing with his hook.  Both of them are so tenderhearted that they end up filling the house with urchins and the downtrodden from the workhouse, well beyond what they need for service and then end up with a governess for them.

Sophia struck me as being what’s probably a bit of a stereotypical Regency heroine.  Well-read with a gentle wit, lovely but unaware of her own appeal, able to tame unruly staff with a few kind words and beloved by children and old people.  One of the things I did find rather sweet about her was that she thought obsessively about not being obsessive about Charles while she was falling in love with him.  I understood why she was guarded about her past and how it factored into her feelings about her worth in Charles’ eyes.  I had a slight issue with the inconsistency between calling her Sally or Sophia during parts of the narrative, but that’s an editing problem I assume.

I’m not sure I understood Charles as much, although I liked him a great deal.  For a man who was hauled out to sea at the age of ten and ended up fighting in a war, he was remarkably well-adjusted, well-educated and even romantic.  I think the fundamental place Kelly lost me with Charles was with the idea that this man who was an Admiral in the Navy would be utterly helpless on land, not to mention fall crying in a boneless heap more than once over things that aren’t really awful (and I don’t mean to be harsh).  I guess I approach this with my own bias.  I come from a family with a long, long line of men who serve/d in the Marines, Navy and Army and the military cranks out the most capable men I’ve ever known on whatever surface you put them on.  The idea that even in Regency times a man of Charles’ resources couldn’t figure out how to hire a steward boggles.  I won’t criticize his eyes welling up with tears, but I can’t imagine a man of his station breaking down and sobbing on the side of the road either, especially given later events in the book and his obvious pride.

I really like Ms. Kelly’s style though and it kept me entertained through the entire book.  I may not be the perfect judge of it, but from the first page I felt immersed in the setting because of the language she used.  I swear I sat up straighter and my nose went up in the air.  Charles has a sister that Speaks In Capital Letters.  She and I?  Separated At Birth.  I loved the inventiveness of the history of the Bright estate and the random bits of weird humor like the wine smuggler on the beach.  I really wasn’t happy with the way the author played out the ending though.  It had nothing to do with the way either Charles or Sophia handled the revelation of her poorly-concealed secret but rather the Romancelandia twist that served neither of them well.

My Summary: Even if it wasn’t something I’d normally have found, it was a nice change of pace to read something where no one was getting naked in the second chapter, finding out they were on a mission from God in the fourth or running away from zombies in the third (not that there’s ever anything wrong with any of those awesome things).  While I had to suspend a little bit of belief in the characters sometimes, I still enjoyed the slow and charming build-up in the love story between these two and never doubted their happy ending.  And there was the hook!

My Rating: B

Barbara

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