An Unwilling Bride
Okay, I’m almost totally converted to a Jo Beverley fan. I’ve read five of her books now, and although I didn’t love the first three, Devilish is a keeper, and this book sends her to my glom list. An Unwilling Bride follows the evolution of an arranged marriage as it becomes a love match. Two strong people manage to find a way to love each other.
Beth Armitage is a teacher at a girls’ school. A follower of Mary Wollstonecraft, she believes in equality for women, which in her mind precludes marriage. Unfortunately, she is not going to be allowed to remain unmarried: the Duke of Belcraven discovers that Beth is his illegitimate daughter and decides that she must marry his heir so that the Belcraven line can continue. Lucien de Vaux, raised as Belcraven’s son, is ignorant of the fact that he is the product of an affair his mother had and therefore not really a de Vaux. Lucien and Beth are equally shocked when the truth is revealed to them, and the duke’s plan for a forced marriage distresses them both. But he uses powerful weapons of threats and intimidations, so eventually they agree.
Beth is an interesting character. At first starched and judgmental, she’s only slightly sympathetic. As her confusion grows, she becomes more so. Beth has a lot of adjusting to do. Raised as a commoner with a sharp mind, she has many beliefs about marriage and the aristocracy, none of which is flattering. She moves into the Belcraven home and finds her new life oppressive. While her beliefs don’t change, watching as she begins to understand more about her new life and how to be herself in its confines is engrossing.
Lucien seems at first to be quite a rake. While he does have a fun-loving side, he turns out to have a strong character as well. Even though he’s being forced into marriage, he breaks up with his mistress. He attempts to comfort and be pleasant to Beth before she almost destroys their early relationship. He’s charming, but he also has a dark side.
What really drew me into this story was Beth’s relationship with Lucien. Watching as they try to accept the marriage and each other was like watching a dance. She attempts to get Lucien to call off the betrothal by implying that she is an experienced woman who’s had many lovers, not realizing he is being forced as well. This conversation colors their every succeeding encounter, despite her attempts to right what she said. She aptly describes their early relationship as quicksand. Even when they try to be pleasant to one another, it deteriorates into a quarrel. The blossoming of their friendship and love is sweet to watch. One encounter with Beth toward the end will likely upset some readers with its violence, but it does show how Beth and Lucien’s relationship has changed.
This book is the second of Beverley’s Company of Rogues series. All of the Rogues make appearances here, but they don’t overwhelm the main story. Beth and Lucien are far too strong as characters for that to happen. The Rogues are integral in events near the end, involving the evil Lord Deveril and one of Beth’s former pupil’s, Clarissa, who comes to Beth for help in escaping marriage to Deveril. In fact, Beth’s dealings with Clarissa show how much Beth has changed. Blanche Hardcastle, Lucien’s former mistress, is also a wonderful character. She’s the typical mistress with a heart of gold. One of the Rogues falls in love with her, and I want to find their story if they have one. The duke and duchess round out the cast, and even they have a small romance.
Some of Beverley’s other early works didn’t grab me; I’m not sure why this one did, but I’m not arguing. This seems like an accurate, well-researched glimpse of Regency society. Spending time reading about these two intelligent, strong people was such a treat, I’m dreading starting a new book. It can’t possibly make me smile, laugh, or root for its characters the way I did for Beth and Lucien.