Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: March 2nd, 2012
Date finished: March 2nd, 2012
When he was only just 21, Michael Lawler, the Marquess of Bourne lost his entire fortune, except the family estate entailed to him, in a card game to his former guardian, Viscount Langford. He's cast out without a penny, and devotes the next decade to getting revenge. During that decade, he became part owner in a notorious gambling club, and managed to replace his fortune and then some, but he still wants the lands around his family home returned, and he burns to get back at Langford.
Lady Penelope Marbury was engaged to a duke, but her father ended the engagement when it turned out the Duke's younger sister had got pregnant out of wedlock. The duke married another woman within a week of the dissolution of their engagement, and Penelope is still whispered about in polite society, years later. In order to get her married off, her father increases her dowry , with the land that borders his estate (and just so happens to be the property surrounding Bourne's family home, which he won from Langford in another card game). Penelope and Michael were childhood friends, along with Langford's son Thomas. Penelope hasn't heard from Michael since he lost his fortune, and feels rather conflicted about land that's rightfully his going towards getting her a husband. As one of five girls, she understands that her father wants her settled, and she feels it's her fault (and the scandal after her broken engagement) that two of her sisters settled for less than exciting husbands. She wants better for her husbands.
So when Michael shows up at his old estate, and kidnaps Penelope as she's out walking in the woods, determined to compromise her so they have to marry, and he can get the land in her dowry - she forces him to agree to pretend theirs is a love match (so there won't be another scandal), and that he will help her sisters find good husbands that they love. Once Penelope discovers that Thomas, who is still her good friend, will also be hurt and possibly ruined by Michael's desire for revenge, she sets out to change her husband's mind.
Having read Maclean's Love by Numbers trilogy last year, it was nice to see what happened to poor Penelope Marbury (the Duke she was engaged to is the hero of the third book in the trilogy). Penelope is a great character, and what makes this book really work. Michael is angsty and conflicted and frankly quite douchy towards his awesome wife throughout much of the book, but unlike several other reviewers out there on the internets, I didn't think he crossed the line into too unforgivably unlikable. Because Maclean shows us both sides of the relationship, we do see Michael's conflicted feelings about using Penelope, and treating her callously, and it's clear that some of the conflicts in their relationship could (like in most romances) have been solved if he just explained himself better to her. And he does step up nicely towards the end, and Penelope ends up being the one who saves him in more ways than one. The very end of the book also teases a very interesting relationship between Bourne's reclusive book keeper business partner, and Penelope's bluestocking younger sister - so I can't wait for the next book in the series.