A Regency-set historical romance featuring a marriage of convenience is nothing new. A hero who has sworn not to marry until duty forces it of him is also nothing new. A heroine who is unlike the other girls of the ton, wanting to have the freedom to pursue her own interests is, you guessed it, still nothing new. And yet Lee has managed to create a rather charming story with these common elements.
Griffin and his cronies at school formed the Free Fellows League vowing to not only stay unmarried as long as possible but to never let a wife interfere with their desire to serve their country or to worm her way into their hearts. To this effect, they drew up a contract and each signed it. Fast forward years to a short time after Griffin has accepted a commission in the Guard to go and fight Napoleon. His father, the Earl of Weymouth, demands that he marry and at least attempt to sire an heir before he goes off to be shot at. Griffin gives in to this request unwillingly but he eventually meets and appreciates Alyssa, the youngest daughter of the Earl of Carrington, who is completely uninterested in marriage and all its trappings. Alyssa just wants to be left in peace to design and care for gardens but her parents are determined to marry her off. She and Griffin have an immediate attraction. She has no objection to the idea of her new bridegroom heading off to war and he has a large neglected garden in need of rejuvenation. A match just waiting to be made. A large part of the book deals not only with the two of them getting to the altar, but also with them learning all about each other in the brief space of their two week marriage. They find that they have been serendipitous in their choice of each other both in terms of physical attraction but also in their similar thinking. And then Griffin goes off to war, experiences the horrors he never imagined, and realizes that he only wants to go home and love and be loved by his wife. But love was never in the bargain they made.
It was refreshing to read a story where the conflict between the characters was not an issue of misunderstanding or lack of communication. And although neither character wants to admit to their love for the other because of the Free Fellows' pledge (which Alyssa is not supposed to know about but does), their hearts are always obvious. The Free Fellows' League was a bit of a silly conceit but perhaps there's more substance to it in the following two books of the trilogy. Also, the charter itself was a bit sophisticated in understanding for boys of their age and would have been more likely to come from almost teens but that's a negligible complaint. I was pleased to see that the villain in this book was not a cut and dried villain and one who did not wish either the hero or heroine bodily or emotional harm and who actually turned out to be a decent guy. The fact that Lee neatly sidesteps many of the common plot devices found in Regency-set romances these days made this an enjoyable read.