After years as a cardsharp in Europe, Alex Archer has one ambition: secure a wealthy wife in England. Upon arrival in Surrey, he's introduced to a country heiress as repayment of a gambling debt owed him by a childhood friend. The woman's companion, Laura Hayes, an impoverished daughter of a deceased perfumer battling for control of her father's property for her invalid brother, immediately recognizes Alex for what he is but also sees a greater, heroic potential. After saving her life while inadvertently damaging her reputation in the process, Alex is forced to choose between the luxurious life he believes he deserves or standing by the woman he loves. Matthews's third book in the "Parish Orphans of Devon" series (The Matrimonial Advertisement; A Modest Independence) once again highlights the injustices of rigid class structures in Victorian England, this time matching a hero of dubious character and a worthy, resourceful heroine. VERDICT Readers who enjoy their historicals set in the country- or seaside and France or England will be in for a treat.—Eve Stano, Ball State Univ. Muncie, IN
A gambler bets on love in Matthews' (The Work of Art, 2019, etc.) latest period romance, set in 1860 England.
Alex Archer never looks back, or so he claims. Decades ago, he fled the orphanage that was his childhood home and left his friends behind, piecing together a life for himself as a gambler. Now, his latest scheme is to leverage his winnings, wed a wealthy country socialite, and finally secure his own land. But his plans seem to go awry from the beginning when he stumbles across the beautiful, impoverished Laura Hayes. Her family has suffered financially since the death of her father, and Laura has been responsible for the well-beings of her brother, who's in ill health, and her elderly aunt. Unfortunately, her family's estate is controlled by a scheming lawyer, and their only hope is for Laura to marry before her upcoming 25th birthday to receive her inheritance. When Alex appears in her small town, Laura immediately sees him as a fortune hunter, intent on marrying her wealthy friend, Henrietta Talbot. But Alex's plans are no match for the vagaries of true love. Despite his financial interests and Laura's determination to avoid him, their fate is sealed when Alex saves her life. But before they can pursue their relationship, Alex must reconcile with his past. Readers of Matthews' previous works will be pleasantly satisfied when Alex crosses paths with memorable characters from prior installments of the Parish Orphans of Devon series. Matthews' storytelling skills remain rock-solid, and she spins a lovely romantic tale here. Her characters are familiar types, and the plot follows a predictable path, but that doesn't make the journey any less enjoyable. As always, the background historical details are impeccably researched; in particular, Laura's trip to the seaside at Margate provides readers with a captivating glimpse into Victorian culture. The description of Victorian bathing machines is intriguing, as well, and Matthews builds excellent narrative tension as Laura's independent attitude clashes with the era's cultural expectations.
A well-crafted historical romance built on a marriage of convenience.