Rating: 4.25 stars
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When Washington state passes its marriage equality law, Duncan Taylor is thrilled. He has always dreamed of marriage and a happily ever after of his own, and now that it is legal, he plans to propose to his boyfriend of three years, Tucker. But Duncan and Tucker are definitely not on the same page, and when Tucker turns him down, Duncan is devastated. At 38-years old, Duncan has never had a relationship that has really worked out, and he despairs that he ever will. In a moment of drunken abandon, he decides to advertise on Craigslist as a gay man looking for a straight woman to marry. He knows it is crazy, and he will regret it as soon as he sobers up, but Duncan sees his sisters and parents all happily married and figures maybe giving up on men and marrying a woman might work. Yes, there wouldn’t be sexually compatible, but maybe the other things would be enough to sustain a marriage.
Duncan definitely reconsiders in the morning, but is still willing to leave up the ad. And when he gets a response from a woman named Marilyn Samples, who yells at him for being an idiot, but still wants to meet him, he decides to give it a shot. At first both Marilyn and Duncan are wary, sure that the other is pranking them somehow by going through with this. Marilyn sees the gorgeous Duncan and can’t imagine how a guy like that can’t get all the dates he wants. And Duncan is drawn to the quirky and fiery Marilyn and figures she is just trying to mock him by showing up for their date. But it turns out both Duncan and Marilyn are lonely and have been unlucky in love, and slowly a friendship begins to build.
Over time, Duncan and Marilyn become incredibly close, the best of friends. They are so compatible and have so much in common. Yes, they don’t have sex; Duncan has been very clear he has never been sexually interested in woman and that is definitely off the table. But otherwise, they are perfect partners and wonderful friends. And when Marilyn suddenly suggests they get married after all, Duncan decides why not. He can imagine a life with Marilyn, maybe even with a family. They get along so well. He is sure they can work out the details (like the fact that they are both hot for men), and soon they are planning a wedding.
Duncan has convinced himself he can be happy with Marilyn. That is until he meets their wedding planner Peter Dalrymple. The sparks fly immediately between the two. But Duncan truly cares about Marilyn and thinks they can be happy. At the same time, being around Peter is making it clear that there is more Duncan needs out of life than a companion. He doesn’t want to hurt Marilyn, but he also hasn’t felt a spark like the one he has with Peter with anyone before. Now Duncan must figure out whether his future lies with the woman he loves and cares for deeply, or the man he is quickly realizing may be the one for him.
Legally Wed is a story with a really interesting premise: can two people make a marriage work based on love and affection, even with no sexual connection? And if they can, is it a marriage and a life where either can be truly happy? This foundation gives Legally Wed a quite unusual and really creative set up.
Both Duncan and Marilyn have been unlucky in love. Duncan desperately wants to get married; he has seen the happy marriages of his sisters and parents and wants that for himself. He is crushed when Tucker rejects him, seeing his dreams crumbling in front of him. So as a drunken lark he thinks maybe he is better off without men, and finding a woman he can marry as a friend. When he sobers up, Duncan realizes this is sort of ridiculous, but when Marilyn responds to his message, he can’t help but meet her. The idea of marriage is never something Duncan even thinks about again. He just enjoys Marilyn’s company and the two become incredibly good friends. But when Marilyn suggests they get married after all, Duncan sees this as the opportunity he has been waiting for, and maybe the best chance he has.
Reed really manages to make Duncan’s decision make sense, even as we know he is making the wrong choice. He truly loves and cares for Marilyn. He loves her company and he can imagine a future with her. Duncan realizes their relationship is missing something very big and important, but he also wants what she offers so badly, he convinces himself things will all work out. Like I said, as readers we know he is making the wrong choice, but we can also really understand why he is doing it, which makes the story work.
I think Marilyn’s motives were a little more unclear for me. At first she seems to agree to meet Duncan just because she is sort of infuriated that he is being such an idiot. We know she is lonely, her few friends are dumping her for their significant others, and she and Duncan become very close. But I still I am not sure what motivates her to want to marry Duncan. I mean, I see what she gets out of it, but I am not really clear why that is enough for her.
The set up of this book means that in many ways it is really Duncan and Marilyn’s story. They meet very early on in the book and the story focuses on their relationship for the vast majority of time. And I enjoyed this part of the book quite a lot. I liked seeing their friendship develop and the conflicts both of them face as they try to decide if the life they are building is the life they want. Both of them are really likable people and I wanted the best for them. So I think the book really succeeds here.
The problem is that the actual love story between Duncan and Peter becomes so minor in comparison to the more significant story of Duncan and Marilyn. I felt like I was rushing through the book, waiting for their story to start. The two men meet about 40% of the way through the book when Duncan and Marilyn hire Peter as their wedding planner. They interact again very briefly at one point, and then not again until about 80% of the way through the story. Officially they are meeting (along with Marilyn) for various wedding planning sessions, but that all happens off page and is part of their working relationship, not a personal one. So by the time these guys actually get together, there is very little time for real relationship development. Honestly, I just assumed this would be a HFN story given how short their time together is. But instead these guys are declaring love on their first date and we things get resolved in the epilogue. So while I really loved both of Duncan and Peter, and totally wanted to see them be happy together, their relationship just happened way too fast for me and with not enough time and attention to really see things develop.
What makes this book still work for me is the relationship with Duncan and Marilyn, and the larger story that leads to Peter and Duncan getting together. I found it really interesting and entertaining, and I really enjoyed seeing Duncan figuring out his life and finding himself along the way. The story is well written, with funny moments as well as really poignant ones. This is not a traditional romance story, but it was one that I liked quite a lot.
Cover Review: I like this cover. Very attractive and it actually captures a good likeness of both Peter and Duncan, something that is sadly not guaranteed on a book cover. Lovely color and a nice feel. Though somehow I feel like Marilyn should be there somewhere, lol.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.