THE MARRIAGE WAGER - Candace Camp
The Matchmaker Series, Book 1
London - 19th Century
At eight and twenty, Miss Constance Woodley is firmly on the shelf, so she acts as chaperone to her two younger cousins, who have just come out and are trying desperately to find husbands this Season. Most evenings find Constance at one entertainment or other, standing idly against a wall. However, for reasons she cannot fathom, at a ball like any other, Lady Francesca Haughston, a leader in Society, singles her out. From that moment on, Constance finds herself the recipient of the exalted Lady's attention and the ton soon takes notice.
Still bewildered by Lady Francesca's friendship, Constance soon discovers she owes her turn of fortune to a bet. It seems Lady Francesca made a wager with the Duke of Rochford that she could bring out any girl of his choosing and get the chit engaged by the end of the Season. By all rights, Constance should feel humiliated by the conspirators' low opinion of her, but instead she is enjoying shopping for a new wardrobe, dancing at balls, and the attention of several men. Constance would have had a Season years ago if not for the ailing health of her father, whom she nursed for years until he died. When his estate passed to her uncle, Constance was allowed to stay at her home, and she showed her gratitude by helping her aunt run the household and raise their two daughters. Although still grateful, Constance is only too aware this is her last chance to grab some happiness for herself, even if she is not in the market for a husband. No, Constance fears Lady Francesca's efforts are in vain on that count for there is only one man she would ever dream of marrying and he is too far out of her reach.
Lord Dominic Leighton, Lady Francesca's brother, needs a wife with a vast fortune and preferably one with a family lineage as distinguished as his own. However, it is Miss Woodley who has caught his eye. Not only is she beautiful and witty, but she is a refreshing change from the silly chits coming out every Season. Dominic cannot seem to stay away from her even though he knows that the only thing that can come of their relationship is scandal, for Dominic knows what is expected of him, and he always does his duty.
THE MARRIAGE WAGER readily calls to mind the story of Cinderella. After Constance 's father dies, her aunt and uncle give her a home, but not their love, and she's treated like a servant. She helps care for her younger, less attractive female cousins, and when it comes time to bring these two out into Society, Constance is expected to stand as chaperone at balls and parties, dressed in her drab clothes, and pass the time watching the two dance and flirt while she blends into the wallpaper.
Alas, along comes Constance 's fairy godmother, also know as Lady Haughston, and her fairy tale begins. Constance is transformed into an elegant beauty and meets her "prince." However, quite a bit happens before there is a happily ever after. Constance learns there are some dark secrets surrounding Francesca and Dominic's family, and there is also a rival for Dominic's affection. Both these factors add tension to the tale and cause a lot of heartache for the likable Constance, who will very easily secure her place in readers' hearts. And although THE MARRIAGE WAGER does not offer up many surprises, Ms. Camp still delivers a well-written tale with a whole set of attractive characters that include more than just Constance and Dominic. Indeed, he only plays a bit part, but the Duke of Rochford is an enigmatic figure who whets one's curiosity and one only has to read between the lines for hints of something between him and Lady Francesca. And that lady in particular is eminently appealing in her role in the story, and is perhaps more interesting than our heroine. She's an impoverished widow who has cleverly devised ways to hide the fact that she is short on funds and just as cunningly done her fair share at matchmaking. And I assume she will have more chances at it because THE MARRIAGE WAGER is just the first in Ms. Camp's promising new series, The Matchmakers .