As an author, Carla Kelly shows belief in people’s innate goodness, even when her characters are being buffeted about by the unpleasantness of the world. This faith in humanity creates an undercurrent of true kindness in all of her works which I really enjoy and appreciate. Things may go wrong, and for the heroine of The Admiral’s Penniless Bride events have been truly soul-crushing, but there is always hope.
The title does not mince words. Sally Paul is genuinely penniless when the book opens. Associated with a scandal not of her own making, she has lived hand-to-mouth working as a paid companion to the old and infirm for five years . Governesses’ children grow up, Sally’s elderly employers pass away. When her new charge shuffles off this mortal coil before Sally has even knocked on her door, her situation changes from desperate to drastic. Unpaid, she departs and uses the last of her coins to buy a cup of tea to nurse and keep warm in the town pub. Sally has nowhere to go and less means of getting there.
Newly retired, Admiral Sir Charles Bright gave his youth to his king and country fighting Napoleon. Spending literally years of his life at sea, he is, at 45 years old, now adrift on dry land. He has purchased a dilapidated and salaciously-appointed home for its marvelous sea view, but other than avoiding his sisters’ determination to marry him off right quick, he is at a loose end. When he sees Sally sitting in the pub, he notices both “a lovely neck” and that she is clearly underfed and in dire straights. He arranges to feed her and joins her for the meal. They hit it off and he proposes a marriage of convenience. He has been left at the altar that very day and has a special license ready to go, so how about it? Sally says no.
Charles finds Sally again, this time getting ready to sleep in a local church, and repeats his polite suggestion of wedding as an excellent option for them both. Realising this is her only choice other than the workhouse, Sally agrees. However, the new Mrs. Bright avoids and then shrinks from revealing to Charles the truth behind her current circumstances. In between the marriage of convenience that becomes very convenient indeed and her forced revelation, things go very well. Charles and Sally build their own community by embracing the overlooked and abused souls around town. It’s an act of kindness from people who understand that life can be cruel.
Up to the breaking point, I really enjoyed The Admiral’s Penniless Bride. The easy rapport established between Charles and Sally was lovely without being saccharine and the reader could appreciate how their individual experiences fit them together so well. Unfortunately, the plot took its anticipated left turn and the disappointing denouement derailed the book. Charles reacts strongly to Sally’s betrayal and while it was a good plotting decision to have events turn out as they did, I was disappointed by Charles’ conduct and the way his actions were excused to bring on the happy ending.