First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh
This is the first book in the Huxtable series, featuring Vanessa Dew (nee Huxtable) the widowed second daughter in the Huxtable family whose husband had been weak and died of consumption a little over a year into their marriage. Elliot Wallace, Viscount Lyngate (and a future duke) intrudes upon the Huxtable existence when he announces that Stephen, the only boy in the family and the youngest, has recently inherited an Earldom, since Elliot's cousin has recently died. Since Elliot's father had volunteered to be guardian to this cousin, when Elliot's father died, guardianship of the cousin and then later his successor, Stephen Huxtable transferred over to him. But along with Stephen Elliot realizes that he is also responsible for Stephen's three sisters, Margaret, the eldest, Katherine, the youngest, and most troubling of all, the plain, yet intriguing middle sister, Vanessa.
When Elliot realizes his future wife would be able to take responsibility for introducing the Huxtable sisters to society, he decides to kill two birds with one stone and marry Meg. When Vanessa catches wind of this she turns the tables on Elliot with her own proposal, which he accepts. Together the two, along with her entire family, embark for London, where she and her family have to be introduced to the royal family, introduce themselves to society, and settle into their new life. Unfortunately cousin Constantine decides to meddle by bringing Elliot's (ex) mistress into the picture, angst ensues, and the two have to come to grips with his past- after his father's death he discovered his father had an entire second family, and her insecurities about her looks. Through time, and effort- especially on her part, the two actually work through their differences and discover their love.
Like many Balogh novels there is no overwhelming passion that consumes our hero and heroine, but a slow buildup of their relationship as they get to know each other and (of course) fall in love. While it certainly takes away a lot of the steaminess of the more passionate novels it also makes it a lot more easy to follow and in a sense makes the love that eventually ensues seem a lot less like pure lust. Or as though the heroine loves sex with the hero and thus she must love him. There is also, as usual, quite a bit of angst, although there is far less than in many Balogh novels, due to her being married previously (and perhaps even in love with him?) and him having a (ex) mistress who has a terrible habit of showing up at inconvenient times. There is no overwhelming mystery to be solved and thus no great big resolution scene at the end where he has to save her life and in doing so they realize they love each other. Which I really like about her books.
I was very confused about Constantine- he is rather built up as a bad guy due to some discoveries Elliot made about him, but it also seemed as though he was being set up for his own novel. Vanessa's siblings, of course, are all set to have their own novel and they are all set up very well and I look forward to reading them. I also found the heroine rather odd- she is described throughout the book, by herself and everyone else including Elliot, as plain but she has a smile that apparently lights up the room and makes her unbelievably gorgeous. It was rather odd as that shows up in other novels- but never seems to actually exist in real life. The one aspect that I found particularly distasteful is during their brief spat when Elliot decides to "punish" Vanessa by making sex un-enjoyable. He doesn't force her and it's not described as painful, but it was still a little squicky.
Rating: Good book- easy to read, believable romantic relationship, fun side characters, good angst, no poor side-plot. But it was a typical Balogh novel with nothing to particularly set it apart.