Marrying the Royal Marine (Harlequin Historical #998)

Marrying the Royal Marine - Carla Kelly Hugh Philippe Junot is restless. At 37 and a Lt. Colonel in the Royal Marines in 1812, he's dedicated much of his young life to King and Country. Lamenting the grey creeping into his hair at the temples and his single state, he's resigned himself to never having a family of his own, much to his dismay. In an attempt to settle his restlessness and serve his country, he convinces his superior officer to let him travel to the Portuguese front on a fact-finding mission.On her way to live and work with her sister Laura at a military hospital in Oporto, Polly Brandon happens to be on the Navy vessel Hugh is taking to the Peninsula. Though he finds her charming and is instantly attracted to her, he is certain he is far too old for a mere girl of 19. They end up thrown together, however, when a particularly vicious case of seasickness leaves Polly completely at his mercy. A mutual friendship and attraction forms - Hugh is drawn to her poise and strength and Polly to his kindness and command - and both are sad to part once they reach Oporto, though neither admits it to the other.When an impulsive decision to join Polly on an errand upriver lands the two of them smack in the middle of a French ambush, they find themselves relying on each other for the strength to survive their ordeal.The book's strength is in its characterization. Both hero and heroine are a well-balanced mix of strengths and weaknesses. Kelly shows us how badly Hugh wants Polly as his wife and the mother of his children, but feels too old for her at the same time. You can feel his anguish as he forces himself to leave her in Oporto without declaring himself, and his weakness as he flouts decorum and writes her a letter from Lisbon. Polly is attracted to Hugh's aura of dignity and authority, but is sure he sees nothing in her, the 19 year old, bespectacled, illegitimate daughter of a nobleman. She throws herself into helping the women hurt by pillaging French soldiers in an attempt to show herself that she is worthy, that she has something to offer the world than a man like Hugh can appreciate.This strong base of attraction makes their romance more than just a matter of desperation induced by pretending to be a married couple to survive their captivity. Their reliance on each other feels natural in the face of their unexpressed feelings. They're able to cry on each other's shoulders - and Kelly is the master of letting a man cry and remain a strong hero - without it feeling forced or convenient. There were some moments where they coaxed each other through some extremely tense moments of abject fear, and their regard for each other just made me weepy. Hugh was a veritable well of strength and comfort, and Polly was an admirable blend of courage and humility. Despite their age difference, they make one of my favorite couples in terms of compatibility.It's a character-focused book, but the high-action plot is spellbinding as well. The French captors are given full personalities, and this richness lends the captivity sequence an ambiguity that ratchets up the suspense. I had a hard time putting it down as a result, staying up until 4am, when my eyes just refused to stay open.I'd suggest this for fans of road romance, vulnerable heroes and high-emotion reads.