passion rating: hot
When I was growing up, my mother made it clear there was a path for nice girls who wanted to wed some day. One met a wonderful man, fell in love, married, and then had sex. In Blame it on Bath, Ms. Linden’s latest enjoyable entry in her The Truth about the Duke series, heroine Katherine Howe follows that path only to find her husband, Captain Gerard de Lacey, has not. Gerard does wait until after he weds Katherine to bed her. But, much to Katherine’s dismay, he completely skips the falling in love part and appears quite content to do so.
Gerard is the youngest of the Duke of Durham’s three sons. The three men are currently living under a cloud of suspicion dubbed by society as the Durham Dilemma. On his deathbed, their father confessed a whopping secret: He’d married as a young man then separated from but never divorced the woman. Thus, his marriage to his sons’ mother, the Duchess of Durham, long dead, was quite possibly an invalid one. The Duke never spoke to anyone of his early marriage, but in the months before he died he'd been receiving blackmail letters threatening to publish proof of his earlier union. Were it to be proven the Duke was indeed married to someone other than Gerard’s mother and that woman had been alive when he wed the Duchess, his three sons would be illegitimate and would lose their fortunes, titles, and entailed properties.
Gerard’s middle brother, Edward, the hero of the first book in the series, One Night in London, is trying to resolve the problem through Britain’s legal system. Gerard, who has spent his adult life in the army, has no patience for that slow moving process and he decides to track down the blackmailer himself. He also plans to find and wed a wealthy woman before the Durham Dilemma scandal further taints his prospects. If his family does lose everything, Gerard will be left with only a small estate in Cornwall and an annual income of a thousand pounds a year. He, who has grown up as a Duke’s son, doesn’t want a life of comparative poverty and sees marrying for money as the only sure solution to his looming misfortune.
Two of the four blackmail letters were posted from Bath, and so there Gerald decides to go. On his way, he stops and spends the night at an inn on the outskirts of London. He is musing over his troubles when there is a knock on the door of his room. A servant woman begs him to come to the inn’s private parlor and meet with her mistress, whose name she does not give. Gerard whose “abiding weakness was curiosity,” goes to the parlor and encounters a woman (he thinks) he’s never met before. She introduces herself as Katherine Howe and, after swearing him to secrecy about their meeting, asks him to marry her.
Katherine is a widow of thirty, considered by most to be a plain, quiet, and serious woman. Her husband died less than a year ago, and she, much to her horror, is being pressured into marrying his heir, a cold and dour man named Lucien Howe. Lucien is desperate to marry Katherine. Katherine is a wealthy woman — she inherited over a hundred thousand pounds from her father. Her husband, Viscount Howe, left Lucien saddled with debt, much of which is owed to Katherine (the note was originally held by Katherine’s father and when he died, it became hers.) Lucien has no way to pay the money he owes and sees marriage to Katherine as the only way he can escape penury. Katherine’s mother Mary, an unpleasant, conniving, vain woman, also wants Katherine to wed Lucien so that she, Mary, will remain the mother-in-law of a wealthy peer. Katherine would rather die than marry the grim and ascetic Lucien but she is increasingly anxious that he and her mother will somehow force her to do so.
So, knowing of the Durham Dilemma, she seeks out Gerard and offers him her fortune in exchange for his hand. Unlike Gerard, Katherine knows the night she meets him in the inn is not the first time the two have met. Katherine grew up in the same town as Gerard and, twelve years earlier, when Katherine was caught walking in downpour, Gerard came upon her on the road, swept her up onto his horse, and gave her a ride back to her home. That act of consideration on his part stirred something in Katherine’s heart and she’s been in love with him ever since. As she explains it, he was the first man to ever put his arms around her willingly. Her marriage was not a close one; for a dozen years she’s thought of Gerard as ”Her knight, her hero, the ideal man she had kept in heart." When she learned of his situation, she decided to pursue him. Not only would marriage to him free her from Lucien’s grasp; finally she’d be with the man she loves. She tells Gerard nothing of their past or her feelings and presents marriage as simply a convenient exchange of her wealth for his protection.
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