"What am I to him? A contract? A convenient solution?"
Laura Townsend's plan to reclaim her family's merchandise backfires when she creeps into moneylender Philip Rathbone's house and threatens him with a pistol, only to find him reclining naked in his bath!
The last thing she expects is to see this guarded widower on her doorstep a couple of days later armed with a very surprising proposal. A marriage of convenience may be Laura's chance to reclaim her future, but she won't settle for anything less than true passion. Can she hope to find it in Philip's arms?
A very good story. It was terrific to read a Regency story without the usual lords and ladies. In this case we have Laura Townsend, whose unscrupulous uncle has lost the family business to a local moneylender. Desperate, Laura sneaks into Philip's home, hoping to force him to return the store merchandise so she can restore the business. However, it doesn't quite work out that way.
Philip is relaxing in the bath when Laura appears before him, pistol in hand. He's amazingly unfazed, rising naked from the water and retrieving the paperwork showing his right to the business. Realizing it's a lost cause, Laura flees into the night, not knowing what will become of her and her mother. Two days later, Philips hasn't been able to forget the lovely Laura. He is a widower with a one year old son and a thirteen year old sister and he is in need of some help. He offers Laura a marriage of convenience. He will take care of her and her mother if she will marry him and help him with his family and his business.
I really liked both Laura and Philip. Each of them has known tragedy and loss, which leave them vulnerable, The death of Laura's father left her and her mother at the mercy of her uncle. Because he lost the business through his dealings with the moneylender, Laura has a rather jaded view of Philip. She first sees him as cold and unfeeling, but feels marriage to him is her only choice. As she gets to know him, she realizes that he isn't cold at all, only very guarded in his feelings. The obvious love he has for his son and sister give her hope for their future.
Philip is drawn to Laura from the time he first met her. He's impressed by her courage in confronting him, and by the intelligence he sees when he explains things to her. His decision to offer her marriage is a practical one for him. He had loved his wife and still grieves over her death. He considers himself responsible, as she had been somewhat fragile in health and died in childbirth. He is attracted to Laura, but refuses to allow himself to open his heart to her, not wanting to risk the pain of another loss like that.
I loved the relationship that grows between them. Philip is protective of Laura and finds himself wanting to do things that make her happy. I also enjoyed seeing the way that he brings her into his business, respecting her intelligence and ability to understand people. He resists the idea that he is beginning to care for her, but everyone around him can see it. Laura starts out wary of Philip, but soon understands that his aloofness hides his fear of getting involved. I liked her gentle way of getting close to him. However, she does still have insecurities of her own, and occasionally they cause her to misjudge him. Fortunately, when she realizes she's in the wrong, she has no trouble owning up to it and apologizing.
Things are going quite well for them and their future looks promising when her uncle reappears and causes trouble. Philip's fears are brought crashing back to haunt him, and Laura has to decide if it's worth it to fight for his love. I loved seeing her determination overcome his fears. The epilogue was a perfect wrap up.
The secondary characters were also well done. I especially liked Philip's sister Jane and the way she would challenge him before Laura and her mother came to stay. I also liked Philip's friend Justin and would love to see him get a story of his own. I also loved the backdrop of Philip's business. In most stories of that period, moneylenders are the sleazy bad guys, but this gives the viewpoint of an honest businessman. I really loved seeing Philip show Laura the ins and outs of the business, both the good side and the bad.