Lord William Hartwell, as an eligible heir to a dukedom, is feeling pressure to find a wife. However, Hartwell has no interest in women, and while same sex marriages are considered acceptable for those not inheriting a title, Hartwell is expected to marry a woman so he can produce heirs. Right now it seems like his best bet is a marriage of convenience with his best friend, Lady Rebecca Warrington, as she has no desire to marry anyone either. If nothing else, the two can have a friendly partnership, even if it isn’t love. That doesn’t stop Hartwell’s eyes from wandering toward Becca’s younger brother, Viscount “Warry” Warrington, however.
Warry has never quite fit in with anyone, including with Becca and Hartwell, where he was always the slightly awkward younger brother tagging along. No one seems to care much for him, so when Warry gains the attention of Lord Balfour, he feels like he has finally met someone who really sees him. Unfortunately, it is not the potential love match Warry had hoped, for Balfour instead blackmails Warry into marriage with threats to his sister’s reputation. Warry sees no choice but to marry the man, but it is making him miserable.
When Warry is injured and ends up at Hartwell’s to recover, the men have a chance to spend some time together. It becomes clear that while the pair are at odds with one another and frequently bickering, there is also a strong attraction between them. But between Hartwell’s need to find a woman to marry, Warry’s blackmail problem with Balfour, and both men’s resistance to admitting their feelings for one another, the situation is complicated and emotional. Now, Warry and Hartwell have to take a chance on sharing their feelings and trusting each other before they lose their chance to be together.
A Husband for Hartwell is the first book in J.A. Rock and Lisa Henry’s Lords of Bucknall Club series. It is an alternate-world, Regency-style romance where same sex marriages are legal. The goal is to allow the younger sons and daughters of the peers to marry into childless unions, thus reducing the number of family members for the heirs to support and strengthening primogeniture. The problem for both our heroes is that they are first sons and thus, the expectation is that they will marry women so they can produce heirs. On top of that problem, the authors set up two big conflicts standing in Warry and Hartwell’s way. In Warry’s case, he is facing blackmail to marry Balfour or else risk his sister’s ruin. Warry feels responsibility, not just because he cares about his sister, but because his actions contributed to the ability to enact the blackmail in the first place. For Hartwell, he risks being disowned for disobeying his father’s orders to marry a woman, and so he is turning to a companionate marriage with Becca instead. So I found this an engaging foundation for the story and think the authors do well building these conflicts and showing just how trapped both of these men feel.
The relationship between Warry and Hartwell is complicated. They have known each other since childhood as Hartwell and Becca have been best friends forever. Warry was always the little brother tagging along, but now the men are starting to see each other in a new light. Yet they can’t quite admit it, to themselves or others. Part of this is because they both see being together as impossible, so they are resisting even going down that road. But also both are a little too stubborn, proud, and uncertain to admit their feelings. I found I struggled somewhat with this side of things. The impression I had from the start is that while the men have known one another forever, the romantic feelings are new. But then there are other points where it suggests a true love connection has been there all along, so it was confusing.
The bigger problem for me is the fact that these guys aren’t all that nice to each other, particularly in the way Hartwell treats Warry. He seems to have tormented Warry quite a bit growing up, in that “little brother” sort of way, but even as adults, Hartwell pokes fun at Warry publicly and can be kind of mean. Neither man takes a lot of accountability for their actions or behavior. The men are at odds for most of the book, and other than a brief interlude where they come together for a night, they seem to mostly dislike one another right up until the ending, when they are suddenly in love and a couple. I struggled with both of these men at times, but Hartwell in particular. And so I needed more time from the point where they both admit their wrongdoings to when they are happy and in love. I needed to see that they have changed, that they have made good on their commitment to treat each other better. So the resolution of the personal conflict here felt too fast to me to make up for the bad behavior in most of the book.
I found the alternate world setting for this one fun and I think this is an entertaining set up for the series. I absolutely loved Hartwell’s grumpy, amateur detective best friend, Christmas Gale, and am super excited to see that his story is next. I struggled somewhat with these characters and feel like they needed more of a redemption arc for me to fully believe in them and their relationship, however. But I am looking forward to seeing where this series goes from here.