The reason? There are two. The first is that because Samantha has overheard Stephan slagging her off, he feels compelled to propose marriage to her. WTF?!
“There is only one thing I can do to make the situation seem a little less intolerable, both from the point of view of our family pride and your natural pride in yourself as a young woman with every right to hear nothing but good of herself… I must make you a serious proposal of marriage… which I now do!”
The second reason is that the schoolfriend, despite being a young widow, isn’t allowed to marry again until her brother does. She has “promised” her Aunt Grizel this. Then Aunt Grizel comes to stay, and the silly charade begins.
There’s also some silly and very pointless backstory about Samantha and Stephan (literally) bumping into one another on a Swiss ski slope 12 months ago. (This makes no sense since the book is set in summer, so there wouldn’t have been a ski season a year ago). The point of it seems to be to establish that Stephan is continually rude to Samantha. But he “justifies” it in the last few pages as being a cover for his love etc etc:
“Then listen to me, you sweet and adorable idiot… you utterly enchanting and appallingly stupid young woman. I’m in my thirties but I’ve never been in love before. I had to wait until I met you! And then, when I met you, I was so annoyed because there was something about you that set you apart from any member of your sex that I’d met before that I went out of my way to be rude to you…”
This is fair enough, by the way, since Samantha is exceedingly silly and stupid, much like the plot. If Stephan really had “fallen in love at first sight” with her on the ski slopes, for the first time in his life, why never try to approach her? Why not instantly recognise her a year later?
What I liked about this book was the Austrian setting. Even though it’s very much a Romance novelist’s notion of a what an Austrian schloss and Austrian aristocrats are like. But it was very scenic. Susan Barrie has apparently used a slew of pen-names, and I wonder if she’s more at home writing Victoria Holt-style period Gothic romance.
I ended up more interested in Susan Barrie than this particular book, she was known as the “world’s oldest novelist” who wrote until her death at 105, and I’m keen to read more of her work.