A Notorious Vow is the third book in The Four Hundred Series by Joanna Shupe.
Lady Christina Barclay is in New York in the hopes of attracting a wealthy husband to save her impoverished parents from debtors prison and to keep their Mayfair home in the family’s possession. But her parents care not a whit for Christina’s preference and are more than willing to marry her off to the richest prospect – a Mr. Van Peet – who is more than three times Christina’s age and is merely looking for a wife to give him a son. His other wives have met with untimely deaths. Christina has taken to walking each morning in the neighbors garden where she enjoys the solitude as she is an extreme introvert. But when the neighbors dog, Apollo, knocks her down in his joy at seeing another person Christina falls and hits her head. When she awakes she finds herself in the neighboring home and looking up into the face of a ruggedly handsome man. She is surprised to see him communicating with this butler through a series of hand movements.
Oliver Hawkes, the neighbor, is a recluse by choice. Having lost his hearing when he was thirteen years old, he has been shunned by polite society. Proficient in the art of sign language, he rarely uses his voice to speak. His domestic staff, mainly Gill the butler, is also proficient in signing and is his voice. Oliver, having set out to join mainstream society, has felt the brunt of their insults when they treat his deafness as a mental illness. He is at first concerned over Christina’s fall but when reassured that she means him no ill will, he gives her permission to stroll his gardens to escape the restrictive rules of her parents so long as she doesn’t bother him and his work. Yet the moment something vile happens to Christina at the hands of Van Peet, it is to Oliver that she runs.
Oliver agrees to a marriage with Christina but with the condition that it be a platonic one and that it will end at the close of a year. In this way he thinks to break her out from her parents’ control and give her the freedom she needs. Christina is content to spend her days at home, not venturing forth as she suffers from anxiety in crowds – even small ones. But their closeness soon grows into something more than friendship and leading two separate lives. Soon they are married in the true sense of the word. But Oliver’s evil cousin Milton soon surfaces and when denied additional living funds arranges to have Oliver committed to a mental institution – one of the worst of the time. Christina, along with friend and lawyer Frank Tripp, vow to secure Oliver’s release.
A Notorious Vow is at once a romance and a commentary on the period known as America’s Gilded Age. The societal fears and narrow-mindedness run rampant here. Yet both Christina and Oliver, working together, create a life for themselves. He helps her to overcome her fears and she draws him into a more society-driven life. I loved having a flawed hero and heroine. They are relatable to readers on many levels. Their individual strengths and weaknesses melt into one as they realize that love is greater when they work together. A refreshing change from the usual romance story, this one kept my interest from beginning to end. It didn’t even need the bedroom scenes although they were tastefully done. Joanna Shupe has created a memorable tale in A Notorious Vow.
Rating: 5 stars