Harlequin TBR #515: A Convenient Gentleman by Victoria Aldridge

I apparently bought this book in 2012. It’s a backlist historical by Harlequin/M&B, originally published in 2004. Victoria Aldridge published half a dozen category romances, all historicals set in New Zealand. This book has a Marriage of Convenience (MOC) trope, an unbelievably naïve heroine, and a hero with some unusual qualities. If you’ve been looking for non-wallpaper historicals, this is one for you. 

A Convenient Gentleman cover

Caroline Morgan wants nothing more than to run the family farm and other holdings when her father steps aside, but Ben Morgan refuses to consider a woman for the job. The eligible son of the property adjoining theirs in New South Wales is smitten with Caroline and Ben is pushing for a personal and business union. Caroline, who is naïve and feisty in equal parts (not my favorite combination in a heroine) refuses and runs away to New Zealand, where she hopes to find her mother’s sister, Charlotte. 

She does indeed find Charlotte in Dunedin, a bustling city that serves the New Zealand gold rush of the 1860s. Charlotte is the owner of the large and luxurious Castledene Hotel, which she inherited from her recently deceased husband. But the hotel is in disrepair, the staff aren’t being paid, the debts are mounting, and Charlotte, who cares nothing about the hotel, is in thrall to the oily and lecherous Mr. Thwaites. Thwaites runs the adjoining bar and makes a healthy profit on it but pays no rent to Charlotte. Caroline knows she can turn the hotel around, but she needs money, and the banker holding Charlotte’s notes won’t lend to a woman. 

Enter our hero. Caroline needs a husband and fast, so she pays Leander Gray, a drunk she finds in Thwaites’ bar, to marry her. Of course Leander turns out to be More Than He Seems, and together they start putting the hotel to rights. Plot developments send Charlotte and Thwaites off-page (separately), and the first half of the story has our MOC’d couple working together and getting to know each other. They’re getting fond of each other and Leander has cleaned up nicely, but we still have half a book to go. 

The book was unusual and fun up to this point: the setting is not one we see often in historicals, Leander is a real drunk (as is Charlotte), and while Caroline can be annoying naïve, she’s not afraid of hard work and her growing relationship with Leander is well portrayed. The writing style is smooth and on occasion witty, and the context feels authentic. 

The way Aldridge keeps the two from reaching an HEA surprised me, and in a good way. I don’t want to spoil the book because it’s well worth reading, but the initial event that drives them apart is one you won’t find often in genre, and it’s completely organic to the story. Leander takes off and the second half is about Caro finding and then following him through the gold rush towns. It’s quite unlike the first half and turns into a road romance. They resolve the issue that separated them, but they find they have very different worldviews and have to find a way to reconcile them if they’re going to make their marriage work. There’s one more separation, this one featuring a more standard genre plot twist, Charlotte and the other supporting characters reappear and have their plot-related loose ends tied up, and at the end of the novel Caro and Leander reach a believable although unforeseen ( by me) path to their  HEA. 

I really enjoyed this story. I’d forgotten how rich and varied category historicals were back in the 1990s and 2000s, before the Recency swallowed every other period and historical verisimilitude fell to the bottom of the list of ingredients required for a successful romance. The sex scenes are not explicit, but they’re organic to the story and the opposite of  prudish. Now I want to read Ben Morgan’s story. 

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12 thoughts on “Harlequin TBR #515: A Convenient Gentleman by Victoria Aldridge

  1. Ah, glad your second foray into your Harlequin TBR was much more satisfying than your first.
    This one sounds interesting. I am familiar with the Australian Gold Rush but only vaguely aware that NZ had one.
    And if the book kept you guessing before delivering the HEA then I’m impressed!

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    1. I knew they’d get to the HEA, but I wasn’t expecting them to get there the way they did. I like the resolution, though. I didn’t know about the NZ gold rush either, and it was really interesting. For readers who like American West historicals, this is reminiscent of that, and there’s plenty of grittiness. The only historical factoid that threw me was the money, i.e., how much people seemed to think was a lot or a little. But perhaps Aldridge thought that if the amounts were too small then readers would be thrown out of the story, so she upped them a little bit. But in those days, 25 GBP was about 3k in today’s money, so I was surprised Caroline thought that was a small amount to have with her.

      That’s a small quibble, though; there was a lot of stuff that felt authentic and the latter dominated for me.

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  2. This sounds intriguing. I am sure there are similar surprises in my Harlequin TBR. Some of them do live up to the formulaic reputation, of course, but so many are unusual and boundary-stretching—or even just working a different vein of romance than is popular now.

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    1. Are you kidding me? That is ridiculous. Oh Harlequin, what has HarperCollins done to you.

      Speaking of which, Harlequin is doing its daily Christmas giveaways, and today’s is Sarah Morgan’s Moonlight Over Manhattan. But thanks to the new system you have to read it online or download a stupid app and read it there, and you have to be connected to the internet the whole time.

      I even acquired the book (because Sarah Morgan) and tried to read it. I lasted two pages. *cries*

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      1. Yes – lots of Harlequin categories are print only for us here. It’s silly. I used to be able to get around it by providing a US address at the Harlequin site and download direct from there but I can’t download at all from there anymore of course so that’s not going to happen anymore.

        I saw the tweet from Harlequin on last night and I quote tweeted it saying that it’s not really a download is it? Similarly, the 40% off code for Black Friday held no appeal because I wasn’t actually buying a book I could download so… It’s only anecdotal of course but lots of people on Twitter have told me they don’t buy from Harlequin anymore because of the new system.

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        1. It is completely ridiculous, especially since part of made Harlequin Harlequin was that so many of the books were worldwide. With the internet, we could all share our thoughts having read the books together.

          I stupidly hope (stupidly because nostalgia is overriding good sense at this point) that it works out for them, but I wonder if they realize how many of their most devoted and voracious readers don’t like reading online. And yes, lots of people read through apps, but requiring yet another one seems overly optimistic.

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    1. MOJO!!!! How lovely to see you! And I’m so glad you liked the book. Reading it took me back to the days when there were more historical romances than time to read them.

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  3. I mourn those days. I’ve pretty much dropped out of Romancelandia, so I’m not up on what’s being written now, so this was a real treat. Thank you!

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    1. You are most welcome, and it’s lovely to hear your online voice again. When I was downloading my Harlequins before the big site changeover, it made me so nostalgic for those days, both in terms of authors and variety of books. I’m thinking there are plenty more hidden treasures to find as I work my way through them.

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