Strangers at the Altar - Marguerite Kaye

The secrets behind the wedding veil

 

For penniless widow Ainsley McBrayne, marriage is the only solution. She's vulnerable yet fiercely independent, so shackling herself to another man seems horrifying! Until handsome stranger Innes Drummond tempts Ainsley to become his temporary wife.

 

Once married, Ainsley hardly recognizes the rugged Highlander Innes transforms into! He sets her long-dormant pulse racing, and she's soon craving the enticing delights of their marriage bed. She has until Hogmanay to show Innes that their fake marriage could be for real…

 

Good marriage of convenience story. Ainsley and Innes meet after each of them has had an unsatisfactory meeting with their solicitors. Ainsley is a widow who finds herself penniless after the death of her wastrel husband. She has an inheritance from her father, but to protect it from the husband it was tied up in a trust for Ainsley's first child or until she turns forty. Though she has tried, there is no way to break the trust, leaving her with nothing to live on. Innes is a self made man who left his home fourteen years earlier to make his own way in the world. He left tragedy and a controlling father behind. Now his father has died, and Innes is required to return to his home and marry in order to claim his inheritance.

 

Neither Ainsley nor Innes wants to marry. Her experience with marriage has left her with no desire to put herself in a man's power again, and Innes has sworn off the institution himself. While commiserating with each other over their problems, Innes comes up with an idea that would help them both. They should enter into a temporary marriage of convenience. He will pay off her husband's debts and pay her for her assistance in deciding what to do with his property. Innes will get the wife he needs to claim his inheritance, and an objective opinion when it comes to the property.

 

I loved the cool and practical way that they worked out their plan for their marriage. Each made their expectations clear, so there were no surprises. But neither expected the attraction that flared between them. Ainsley had never experienced anything like it, and decided that she wanted to find out more. I loved her reasons, and how she and Innes worked out the change in their relationship. Both were still determined to stick to their plans, and that the physical side of their relationship would not change anything.

 

Ainsley is an independent woman with strong opinions that is finally coming to trust herself. Her first husband had been emotionally abusive and left her with a low opinion of herself. Innes's obvious respect and liking for her go a long way toward restoring her confidence. She gets to the point where she is able to ask for and get a deeper involvement in Innes's life and problems.

 

Innes had stayed away from his home for so long due to events that happened before he left. His treatment by his father had left him resentful and determined to make his own way. Then there were the circumstances of his brother's death, which have left him riddled with guilt. Those feelings have led him to think that he does not deserve happiness in his life, and he refuses to allow himself to fall in love.

 

I loved seeing the respect and friendship Innes and Ainsley have for each other grow into love, even as they try to resist it. I liked the way that Ainsley tried to show Innes that no matter what happened in the past, he has a chance to make the future a good one. I really liked the way that her unique way of looking at things helped Innes get past the traditional ways of doing things, ways that didn't work anymore, and got him looking at new methods. As she realized her feelings for him, she really wanted to help him break out of the hold the past had on him. I hurt for her as she accepted that she couldn't do it, and made her decisions for her own future.

 

I admit I wanted to shake Innes a few times, as he seemed to wallow in his guilt and misery. For a modern man, who is an engineer with a great reputation, all his efforts seemed to be stuck in a past he doesn't appear to be willing to break free of. He had better success in his attempts to help Ainsley overcome her insecurities. I loved his patience and humor as he introduced her to passion, and how open he was with her there. His frequent efforts to push her away when she got too close emotionally were frustrating. He almost lost it all before he realized what was really important. I loved what he said to Ainsley at the end, and how he was finally able to believe in a happy future for both of them.

 

Another part of the book I enjoyed was Ainsley's role as a kind of Victorian "Dear Abby". I loved the letters that were included in the story, and the way that Ainsley's answers changed as her life changed. It was especially fun to see the way that she involved Innes, too. I liked her editor friend Felicity. She has an interesting life of her own, and I'd like to see more of it. Innes's friend Eoin seems to have an interest there, and I'd love to see them have their own story.