I continue my rediscovery of the new, possibly-better Kleypas with her second in the Revenel series, Marrying Winterborne. We met hero Rhys Winterborne and heroine Lady Helen Ravenel in the first book, Cold-Hearted Rake. Though Rhys was laid up injured for most of that encounter, it definitely established a connection between the genteel, gentle, ethereal Lady Helen and the rough-and-tumble, self-made-man hero. When the present volume opens, Rhys and Helen’s engagement has been severed: Helen was shocked by his punishing kisses and reacted to hurt his sensitive working-man’s pride. But she arrives at his department store, unattended, to convince him to reestablish their engagement-of-convenience, $$$ for her family and an illustrious, blue-blood name for him. Except neither of those “facts” are valid any longer: Lady Helen’s family has stumbled on a financial boon and Helen’s name had nothing on Rhys’s desire for her, which, like Kleypas heroes of long memory, borders on the pathological. To fill in the pub’s version, here’s the back-cover blurb:
Savage ambition has brought common-born Rhys Winterborne vast wealth and success. In business and beyond, Rhys gets exactly what he wants. And from the moment he meets the shy, aristocratic Lady Helen Ravenel, he is determined to possess her. If he must take her virtue to ensure she marries him, so much the better… Helen has had little contact with the glittering, cynical world of London society. Yet Rhys’s determined seduction awakens an intense mutual passion. Helen’s gentle upbringing belies a stubborn conviction that only she can tame her unruly husband. As Rhys’s enemies conspire against them, Helen must trust him with her darkest secret. The risks are unthinkable… the reward, a lifetime of incomparable bliss.
Hmmm, Rhys doesn’t “take” Helen’s “virtue”, she rather uses her virtue to win and keep him. No enemies conspire against Rhys, but they definitely conspire against Helen. And I was pleasantly surprised to see that Kleypas kept the hero-to-the-heroine’s rescue nicely balanced with a once-shy, developping-a-spine heroine’s ability to take care of herself.
The best part of Kleypas’s romance was the banter between Helen and Rhys (Rhys gets maudlin in places, but he more than makes up for it with wit in others; Helen is perfection in demeanor and quick-witted in repartee). One of my favourite exchanges is an “exchange” between Rhys’s mercantile understanding of the world and Helen’s aesthetic one. It occurs as they argue over the massive, heavy, exorbitantly expensive engagement ring he gave her, never allowing her the opportunity to choose for herself. Once they reestablish their engagement, she asks him to exchange it for one more to her liking. Her choice of a semi-precious moonstone disconcerts Rhys; they playfully argue:
Rhys couldn’t fathom why she was so pleased to have exchanged a diamond for a moonstone. All he understood was that she needed to be protected from her own naiveté. “Helen,” he said gruffly, “when you have the upper hand, you must not give it away so easily.”
She gave him a questioning glance.
“You just exchanged a costly ring for one that is only a fraction of its value,” he explained. “It’s a bad bargain, it is. You should demand something to make up the difference. A necklace, or a tiara.”
“I don’t need a tiara.”
“You need to ask for a concession,” he persisted, “to bring the ledger back into balance.”
“There’s no ledger in a marriage.”
“There’s always a ledger,” he told her.
Rhys’s view of the world, cynical, based on a trade of value for value, a ledger-balance, tit-for-tat ethos is upended by Helen’s flat out view of the world on the basis of forthright love. I adored that about her and Kleypas’s heroines in general.
My pleasure in Helen and Rhys centred on their verbal exchanges, but there were other bits I didn’t enjoy as much. There were about a hundred and twenty-seven love scenes: I was okay with the first one, but after that, it seemed to be filler for the fact there wasn’t much to keep these two apart. When the heroine is honest and open about her feelings and the hero is smitten and adoring, well, what ARE you going to do for another 200 pages? Melodrama, that’s what. Kleypas resorts to contrivance and it left me cold … but then, she goes for the high drama and adventure and intersperses it with good doses of humour from the secondary characters (and introduces a most intriguing one too) and I was sucked right back into the story. Not perfect, far from it, but Kleypas writes such unabashed ROMANCE that I can’t help but love and laud her for it. With Miss Austen, we’re going to avert our blushing faces and agree Marrying Winterborne offers “real comfort,” Emma.