The Substitute Bridegroom (Signet)

The Substitute Bridegroom - Charlotte Louise Dolan While it's no standout for innovation in traditional regencies, it's absolutely perfect as what it is - a light, fun marriage of convenience story with enough wit and drama to stay entertaining from start to finish.Army Captain Darius St. John is just about to pull even in a carriage race down a narrow country lane when he has to suddenly swerve at the last second to avoid a child in the road. As he does so, a woman dashes in front of him and yanks the boy clear of the road. Everyone survives the accident, although the woman is injured by flying debris in the ensuing collision between the curricles and is left with a jagged scar down her face.Elizabeth Gainsborough was the shining belle of the London Season and set to marry an equally sought after gentleman at the end of the summer. When she notices how he can no longer bear to look at her marred face, she calls off the engagement, unwilling to marry a man who's disturbed by her appearance. Though she's content to retire to her family's country estate and be a doting aunt, her brother thinks otherwise, and sets off to demand Darius substitute himself for the dismissed fiance.So, like I said, this book wins no awards for innovation. It's your standard marriage of convenience plot. There's the awkward wedding night (though this book is fade-to-black in the bedroom), the surprising appearance of mutual affection, the misunderstanding that sets them back and the climactic event that brings them back together. Even in 1991, this was old hat.But, I mean, so what? The characters are all a satisfying mix of motives, quirks and other traits that it's still a fun trip. The flirtatious banter between Beth and Darius sparkles as much as their mixed signals rankles. They both make mistakes, but they do it in ways that are true to their characters, so it's suspenseful rather than exasperating. You know they'll work it out, but you want to stick around and see how, if only to see them giggle to each other about how wrong they'd been.The only complaints I have for this fun story would be with the uncomplicated supporting characters. The antagonists in particular were too clearly written as bad people. The dismissed suitor, selfish cousin and slutty dowager duchess were almost cartoonish in their actions. They'd have been much more satisfying and effective characters if there had been more ambiguity in their behavior and motivations.For a fun, light regency, this is a joy to read. So long as you're not expecting a groundbreaking sort of experience, there's a lot to like here.