After Kingston’s intense, lengthy Desire Lines, I needed a romance palate cleanser and Liz Fielding’s signature gently-created world was the perfect choice. Though I fulfilled my wish for bluebell gardens, charmingly crumbling castles, and cute dogs, Fielding’s The Billionaire’s Convenient Bride also delivered an emotional punch. An ominous note rang from scene one. Kam Faulkner arrives at Priddy Castle with humiliating memories and a desire for revenge against heroine Agnès Prideaux. Agnès and Kam had grown up together, running wild and free on castle grounds and surrounding land and water. Later, as teens, their childhood bond was complicated by physical attraction. But the cook’s son and castle “princess” was a love that could not be; when Agnès’s grandfather caught wind of it, he fired Kam’s mother, winning Kam’s resentment and hatred. Kam and his mother had to leave their sole home and income source. In the intervening years, Kam worked hard and achieved huge financial success.
As Kam’s fortunes rose, Agnès’s dwindled. She is now sole care-giver to her Alzheimer’s-suffering grandmother and a financially-strapped, dilapidated castle and its environs. Agnès tries to gain income by renting it as a B&B, but the repairs and renovations to make it truly viable aren’t affordable. When Kam arrives, he is already aware of Agnès’s desperate situation and bent on using it for his purposes. Angry and blaming her for the loss of his and his mother’s home and security, he plans to make her an offer she can’t refuse: ” … he wasn’t here on some sentimental pilgrimage.” The best laid plans, as we know, often stray when the heart calls. As Kam and Agnès reminisce, attraction and love resurface. Kam moves from vengeful to wanting to help to, when he learns of the entail on the castle, proposing marriage. Agnès, on the other hand, has neither financial designs nor revenge fantasies about Kam: she loves him, has always loved him: “Kam had never been cosy. He’d been a dangerous lad; she’d adored him on sight.” Love, guilt, revenge, desire, yearning, nostalgia: these make up Fielding’s romance.
I enjoyed Kam and Agnès’s adult re-acquaintance and memories of the island, garden, and animals. The through-a-glass-darkly memories of young, budding love were as fraught and lovely as young love can be. I loved how Agnès was strong and vulnerable: strong to go it alone, to give up her own dreams of studying horticulture to offer what she can to her employees, vulnerable to admit how much she loves Kam, even when uncertain about his reasons for returning and motivation for offering marriage. Agnès wants to do what’s best. She has integrity and is emotionally sensitive: “Telling him that she was sorry would be meaningless but maybe hearing him out would help him draw a line under the past so that he, at least, could move on. It would be painful, humiliating, but he deserved that courtesy from her.” Agnès acts with integrity and is also witty, humorous, caring, and perceptive. I was disappointed that she had a bizarrely suspicious attitude toward Kam near the end: it wasn’t in keeping with who she was. Though Kam is, for the most part, admirable, droll, honest, and loving, he too had bizarre turns of personality. He arrived as avenging angel and turned to care-giver hero without any change of heart and mind, blooped from one to the other without any internal change.
On the other hand, the body knows what the mind and heart have yet to realize. Fielding’s depiction is lovely: “That moment when she had seemed to lose her balance and he’d reached out and caught her arm. For a fraction of a second he’d had the feeling that all he had to do was draw her close, complete the circle and his world would come right.” This is what sees me returning to Fielding: the lovely writing. Agnès remembers Kam as a guitar-strumming teen: “Did he still play the guitar? The thought slipped into her mind without warning, a melancholy minor chord rippling through the woods at night as fresh in her memory as if she were leaning out of her bedroom window to catch the sound.” Or, Kam’s simple avowal of what Agnès means to him: ” ‘ … when I think of home, this is the place in my head. In my heart.’ ” With Miss Austen, we agree Fielding’s The Billionaire’s Convenient Bride offers “real comfort,” Emma.
Liz Fielding’s The Billionaire’s Convenient Bride is published by Harlequin Books. It releases today, April 1st, and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-ARC from Harlequin, via Netgalley.