REVIEW:  Two Weeks with a Stranger by Debra Mullins

REVIEW: Two Weeks with a Stranger by Debra Mullins

Dear Ms Mullins,

This is a book I really wanted to like. I enjoyed the hero and the heroine. I liked them individually and I liked them together. I liked watching them interact and grow to understand each other as well as love each other. Unfortunately, the whole nobleman spy for England thing has been done to death and the book was scattered with secondary characters whom I found difficult to like or who didn’t make much sense.

Simon Severton, Earl of Devingham decides to kill a few birds with one stone by wooing, proposing to then marrying Lucy Heathpot (what is it with these names?). She’s a nice country lass who grew up near his estates, she knows the people, she’ll be happy to stay in the country, bear his children thus perpetuating the line and she’ll keep marriage minded mommas from continuing to hurl their daughters at him. It helps that he likes Lucy and found, to his delight, that she responded warmly to him on their marriage night. When his duty to the Crown is done, hopefully in a few short months, he happily plans to return to his estates, take up where he left off the day after the wedding and continue to breed his prize roses, write poetry and enjoy married life. He regrets having to leave his new wife but one’s duty must be done.

As the local Squire’s daughter, Lucy never expects to catch the eye of an Earl much less marry him. Their brief courtship offers Lucy hope that the honorable man she’s seen from afar all her life might also be the kind of man with whom she can build a loving relationship such as her parents had. And the wedding night is certainly a delightful surprise, despite all the “a wife must submit” lectures she received before the wedding. But when she wakes up the morning after, it’s to find that Simon has apparently rushed off to London on urgent business. As the weeks pass and the rumors about Simon’s pursuit of a luscious Italian widow reach her, Lucy begins to doubt all her rosy hopes and dreams. Could she really have misread the man so completely? Will she have to settle for a typical aristocratic marriage wherein both pursue their separate lives after the heir and a spare are produced? When fate provides her with another reason to visit London, Lucy decides to take the chance and see if her marriage can be salvaged.

First of all, I was far more interested in Lucy and Simon’s relationship than the whole spy nonsense. I like the idea of a bookish, non-rake hero. I like that his wife flusters him and that he married who he thought was a country miss who ends up having depths. I especially like that he has to rethink his whole attitude to nice girls and sex. I like that Lucy doesn’t go off in a snit over Simon’s supposed affair but is willing to fight for her man in Regency ways. I like that she likes relations with her husband yet sees that he might only be in lust with her. I like that she sees that lust and love are different things. What I didn’t really understand was the too easily resolved conflict that brought Lucy to London. It drags out for the last fourth of the book then, voila!, just like that it’s tearfully yet happily fixed.

As for the spy nonsense – surely there must be a suave Englishman who can step up to the plate here. Why must Simon be the one sent by his superiors to attempt to seduce Isabella? You tell us that other agents have failed to capture Isabella’s attention yet never really show us what about Simon kept her interested in him. He keeps repeatedly blowing it with Isabella, totally pissing her off then with a “revolting piece of drivel” poem (his words) and one flute of champagne – he’s golden again. What? Really? Isabella’s sure easy to please all of a sudden. Simon and his fellow agent and best friend Foxworthy aren’t subtle at all during their scheming and plotting. I find it hard to believe that Isabella hadn’t caught on to the fact that something was up with these two.

After Fox and Simon catch Lucy and her friend Gin Matthews eavesdropping on the spy ring this aspect of the plot begins to resemble Nancy and Ned plus George and Burt solving crimes. All we need are a Bess and Dave to complete the Nancy Drew homage.

Do you plan on writing more about Fox and Gin’s relationship? What’s in this book is more like toddlers in a sandbox than a mature romance. These two bicker from their introduction through the last chapter in the book then suddenly Fox is kissing her and she’s calling him by his first name. I never saw the progress to love shown. But then Gin perplexed all me all on her own. She’s supposed to be a young, unmarried woman in the early nineteenth century yet she often acts like a sexually knowledgeable twenty-first century person. You try to give Fox a tragic background, I guess to make him the angst filled one in the story, but he never moved much beyond a snarling, unpleasant piece of work to me.

As I said earlier, I wish the issue separating Simon and Lucy wasn’t the overdone spy against Napoleon thing. If the book had featured another plotline and had concentrated on Simon and Lucy getting past their marriage of convenience, my grade would be higher. If readers haven’t gotten their fill of this plotline, then this is a harmless way to fill time but it could have been so much more interesting. C