The Secret Wedding is set in Beverley's Georgian "Malloren" world, and yes, Rothgar is here and plays a key role in the story.
At 16 years of age, newly minted army lieutenant Christian Hill came to the rescue of the even younger Dorcas Froggatt, a manufacturing heiress. She was abducted by a ne'er-do-well fellow officer. Christian arrived at the Yorkshire inn too late to save her virtue, but in time to defend himself against the enraged absconder who winds up dead. In bursts Dorcas's formidable aunt who forces Christian to marry Dorcas in front of a host of bribed witnesses. Christian provides a false name - Jack Hill - and ships out to Canada, not knowing if he is legally married or not. A couple of years later, he received a letter saying that his "wife" had died, and he put the incident out of his mind. Ten years later, he is back in London and hears of a "Mistress Hill" who is looking for information about "Jack." Wondering if his "wife" could still be alive, if the marriage legal and if so, what does she want, has him traveling to Yorkshire to get to bottom of it all.
Dorcas does call herself Mistress Hill, though she believes she is a widow, having received a letter that Jack was killed in Canada, but now she goes by her middle name, Caro. She wishes to marry a neighbor, but needs to make absolutely sure that Jack is dead and so has her lawyers make inquiries. Christian and Caro meet at the same Yorkshire inn, though do not know or recognize the other, for he is calling himself "Christian Grandiston" (Grandiston is his title) and she is calling herself "Kat Hunter." They each know the other is hiding something, but their strong mutual attraction has them in bed within hours of meeting. Circumstances have them on the road and on the run, falling in love, all unbeknownst, with their own spouse.
As you can see, this is a Big Secret plot, and these can sometimes be hard to believe, but in Beverley's skillful hands, it worked. Caro and Christian's road trip give them plenty of time to get to know the person, even if they don't know their real names, and provides plenty of excitement and humor. The secondary characters are strong but don't overwhelm the leads. Especially notable are Caro's deceased Aunt Froggatt, who still wields her power from the grave, and Christian's parents, who astound him with their inability to keep their hands off each other even after 13 children. And, of course, Rothgar does his Rothgar thing, which is always fine by me.
A new Jo Beverley novel is always a treat, and The Secret Wedding does not disappoint.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, May 13, 2009