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Henry Middlebrook was an aspiring painter before he became an aspiring soldier and went off to war. He has returned home a hero from the siege of Quatre Bas, but his heroism came with a cost: the loss of his right hand. Now he is neither a soldier nor a painter -- and his well-meaning family is encouraging him to return to society.
Upon the urging of his sister in-law, Henry makes the acquaintance of Caroline, Lady Stratton, a widow and one of the most sought-after catches of the season. One look at Caroline and Henry knows that he needs Caroline: he needs her confidence, connections and, most especially, her popularity. Seeing the competition for Caroline's attention, Henry employs the assistance of Caroline's companion, Frances.
Frances Whittier is also a widow and Caroline's cousin. Frances is Caroline's eyes and ears among the Ton and is used to fading into the background -- Henry's attentions comes as a surprise to Frances -- and thus begins a partnership and friendship of sorts.
"It's quite all right," she said quickly. "So we both have dreadful nicknames. Is it not odd how the people who are closest to us persist in addressing us as if we are six years old?"
"That may be the last time they saw us clearly."
Frances looked thoughtful. "You may be right. And that might not be a bad thing. I was a much better person at the age of six than I am now."
- loc 398
Then a letter is delivered to Henry, sealed with Lady Stratton's family symbol. The letter and its content encourages Henry to further his courtship of Caroline and he needs Frances's help more than ever.
What Henry doesn't know is that while the letter came from Caroline's household, it was not written by Caroline.
It Takes Two to Tangle is the first book in Theresa Romain's Matchmaker series. It is clear that Henry's sister in-law, Emily, the Countess of Tallant, who plays the matchmaker between Caroline and Henry but, to make matters more interesting, Caroline seems to be doing some matchmaking between Henry and Frances.
There are clues that would support this:
1. Caroline starts lending Frances some gowns to wear for their social outings. Prior to their introduction to Henry, Frances was wearing her more sensible clothes.
2. Caroline knew that Frances was borrowing her seal and "using" her name in the letters to Henry.
Theresa Romain draws two portraits in this novel: the soldier returned home from war and the war widow.
Soldiers are heroes, but soldiers also come home from war with wounds outside and inside -- and they are left with the challenge of picking up the pieces of the life left they left behind and building up a new life. Such is the case of Henry Middlebrook. As far as his family is concerned, he's home -- and that is the end of the story. But it is not the end for Henry, it is the beginning and a difficult one. He can't use his right hand so he can't paint or write anymore -- he cannot dine properly or hold flowers while courting. Henry cannot go back to his former life and he is finding it hard to define himself in his new form.
He ran his fingers through the loops of the Brussels carpet. Jem's carpet, in Jem's house. He was even wearing Jem's clothing today. Everything he had was Jem's, really, except for Winter Cottage. Henry could slide out of London without leaving a trace of himself behind.
But no. It was no more right for Mister Middlebrook to turn tail and run now than it would have been for Captain Middlebrook to do so in Bayonne or Brussels. Or Quatre Bras.
- loc 510
What is Caroline to Henry? A prize. A trophy -- proof that he can still charm and win women. Henry is aware of this but he cannot apologize for his actions because he believes he needs Caroline if he is to have any semblance of a social life.
This picture of Henry is off-focus -- he sees the goal but not what's beyond it. It's a Henry who doesn't know which direction to look: to the past or to the future. Enter Frances -- the companion. She's supposed to just be the sidekick, the best friend, the foil -- but it is with Frances that Henry feels a wholeness -- a sense of completeness, a sense of contentment, a chemistry -- but, poor Henry, is too intent on his original goal to realize this.
When Frances is first introduced to us, she is defined by her widowhood and that her late husband was a soldier. War widows also have their own mark of heroism: the sacrifice they made while their husbands were at war and the grief and loss that they carry with the death of their husbands -- but there is more to Frances's story than that. A story more tragic that has left Frances feeling a bit ashamed and regretful -- and these are the emotions that inform her decisions and her present life.
Frances defies being typecasted as a secondary character or even as the plain one in the "love triangle" between her, Henry and Caroline. She is intelligent and observant and sensitive to the people around her.
She was always out of step. She had grown up in wealth but married a workingman. Now she served as a companion, yet she raised her eyes to the son of an earl. She did not know for which world she was better suited. At times, both lives chafed, as though she lived in a garment cut wrongly and fitted for another's body.
- loc 1643
Theresa Romain's It Takes Two to Tangle shows us that there is always more to the story. I've been reading Theresa Romain since her debut novel and, I have to say, her star is rising. This was an incredibly insightful novel with biting wit and raw emotions.
It Take Two to Tangle will be released on September 3, 2013. To find out more about Theresa Romain and her books, click below:
Disclosure: I received the ARC through Netgalley. (Thank you to Theresa Romain and to Sourcebooks Casablanca for accepting my request.) Yes, this is an honest review.