Wed at Leisure
Avon Impulse / May 27, 2014 / $3.99 print, $.99 digital
In all of Sussex—scratch that—in all of England, there is no one prettier than Kate Mansfield, and Peter Colburn, heir to the Duke of Orland, has known that since the age of 15. But since her vivacious nature comes with a temper to match, Peter has always masked his hunger for her behind ruthless teasing.
As far as Kate is concerned, there is no one as annoying or as incredibly handsome as Peter. So when he surprises her with a sudden and romantic courtship, Kate is sure this must be his idea of a sick joke. After all, he's the one man who knows how flawed she really is. And the only man to whom she has ever been so attracted. It's only after she rejects him that she realizes he might actually have been serious. And she just might be regretting her hasty decision.
As Kate's determination wars with her traitorous heart, it may be too late. Now she's putting everything, including her reputation, on the line to give this accidental tragedy a happy ending.
In a series that began with Woo’d in Haste, Sabrina Darby continues to weave some of the main conflicts from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew into the landscape of Regency England with her latest title, Wed at Leisure. Where the first novella looks at the fair sister, Bianca, Wed at Leisure introduces readers to the purported shrew, Catherine. A sequence of brief scenes illustrate the history between Catherine, or Kate to the more familiar, and the hero of the story, Peter, Duke of Orland, before we are plunged into the main crisis that sets the two on the path of reluctant romance.
As the characters are initially presented, Kate is established as an incomparable queen bee, complete with a tendency to throw tantrums. There are reasons behind her actions, particularly the confounding antagonism she feels from her own mother, though few are aware of how deeply it all upsets Kate. In a moment meant to be private, Peter sees the fallout of one such interaction, though he is still too young to understand the depths of Kate’s devastation.
Peter has had his own parental issues over the years and it’s this commonality that fuels his consideration when his brother suggests he woo Kate to allow their friend, the Viscount Asquith, to pursue Bianca. Before any of that can happen, though, Peter must first get beyond the animosity he has shared with Kate over the years.
“‘Never fear, Miss Mansfield. I am only here for a week at most. I shall have to make the most of these few moments we have together.”
“Don’t make too much of them.”
“‘You wound me.”
[Kate] laughed. “The one thing I never have to worry about from you, Peter, is that anything I say could hurt you. You exist simply to torture me.”
As Peter struggles to understand the source of the pleasure he derives from his heated interactions with Kate, Kate is making plans for a possible match with a different man, Lord Lindley. Kate’s hope is that a good marriage will help her put the past behind her once and for all. Along with her stepmother, Henrietta, they formulate a plan to get the gentleman’s attention placed firmly on Kate with a party at their country estate.
Despite the intention, this also presents several problems for our heroine. First, she has been purposely avoiding home, Hopford Manor, because the echoes of her former existence seem to solidify again whenever she is there. The shrewish behaviour of her youth is easily recalled by the long memories of the Watersham townsfolk and becomes a potential trap that Kate could quickly fall into again.
The second issue is one of proximity, with Kate’s home bordering directly on to Peter’s own ancestral lands. He’s added to the guest list, allowing him to explore his undeniable fascination with Kate and starts the process by calling a truce. Though he may claim to be an unwilling participant in his brother’s plan to distract Kate for the benefit of Asquith and Bianca, his actions may prove otherwise.
This brings all of the characters together in one place for the courtship, the inevitable exposure of “the plan,” and its accompanying heartbreak for Kate.
...the self-loathing that Kate normally pushed deep beneath the surface was inescapable.
Because of Peter. Peter who saw her. Who had always seen her from as far back as that day by the river. From whom she kept a distance for good reason. Who kissed her with a drunken kiss that he claimed to have forgotten. But she had not known that at the time. Now she thought him yet another person who did not want her, who rejected her.
Blending the tried and true storyline presented all those years ago by Shakespeare and pulling them forward to the Regency era, complete with its strict social structures seems a perfect fit. Not only is Kate the older sister and therefore the one that must marry first, but she had requested a delay in Bianca’s coming out, causing further tensions within her family. Beyond that, there are enough of society’s rules in place to allow for misunderstandings that can swell to unreasonable proportions, even ones that can last through the tender teenage years into adulthood, like the forgotten kiss.
“I’m a duke, Kate,’ he said, abashed even as he reminded her. ”Certainly more of a catch than Asquith.“
”Why tell me that? Do you think that matters to me? Perhaps Bianca thinks it does but I shan’t marry you to trump my sister. To save my reputation. It’s very kind of you. No...No, perhaps it isn’t kind of you at all. Tell me, Peter, is it true? Was your courtship merely a sham in service to your brother’s scheme?"
The biggest issue becomes whether Kate can believe Peter’s assertion that he truly wants her or if it’s all just a part of Bianca’s machinations to spitefully out-manoeuvre her older sister. The idea of a reciprocal one-upmanship as Kate ponders Peter’s duchy versus her younger sister’s Viscount is definitely a consideration. But for Kate, she wants more and has worked hard to create the new image that will help her find it. Though a scandal appears imminent because of Bianca’s established connection to Asquith, Kate refuses to let old habits get the best of her. It is here that the story separates itself from those it’s modelled after through the exploration of the deeper feelings of the characters and the idea of ‘more’ for the heroine, giving it a slightly more modern take on a historical staple.
Learn more or pre-order a copy of Wed at Leisure by Sabrina Darby, available May 27, 2014:
Jackie Lester imagines a day when she can make a living as a writer. Until then, she reviews eclectic books at My Ever Expanding Library and lives in small-town Ontario with her daughter.