Four Weddings and a Sixpence
The stories in Four Weddings and a Sixpence, a new anthology from some of the biggest names in historical romance, follow a group of friends who each find love with a little help – perhaps – from the old sixpenny piece one of them finds lurking beneath her mattress.
– by Julia Quinn
In this prologue, Ms. Quinn introduces us to Beatrice Heywood and her friends at Madame Rochambeaux’s Gentle School for Girls. Gossiping in Anne’s room one afternoon, the girls discover a sixpence hidden in Anne’s mattress. After laughingly reciting the popular wedding rhyme, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue – and a sixpence for your shoe,” they laughingly agree to pass the coin between them until each finds their true love and marries. The plan is greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism from Bea, but ultimately each friend pledges to give the coin a chance. Ten years later, Anne Brabourne is reaching the deadline her uncle has set for her to marry, and in Something New, the coin begins to work its magic.
– by Stefanie Sloane
Grade : B- Sensuality : Warm
Anne Brabourne has no intention of ceding her independence to any man she marries, and that decision has left her with few men to choose from. She’s kept the sixpence close (on a necklace), but so far, hasn’t managed to find a suitable husband. Seeking an escape from yet another crowded ballroom, she finds herself in a cozy library lamenting her future marriage prospects to a dog drowsing by a fire. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one listening.
Rhys, the Duke of Dorset, didn’t mean to eavesdrop on Anne’s ‘conversation’ with his dog. When he approaches her and gently chides her about her marriage prospects, he finds himself strangely drawn to her. Despite the fact that anyone might walk in and discover them alone together, Rhys questions Anne about her shortlist of prospects, and Anne confesses she doesn’t intend to marry for love. For reasons he’s not sure he quite understands, Rhys offers to help Anne find a suitable husband and Anne accepts.
Rhys is an attractive, wealthy, single rake. Anne is an attractive, confident, wealthy woman. Folks, this is a romance – so you know where it’s going. After spending time together, Rhys comes to realize he likes Anne as more than just a friend and doesn’t want her to end up with any man but him. Anne finds it increasingly difficult to resist falling for her friendly matchmaker. One thing leads to another… and, well, Anne finds herself engaged to be married before her twenty-first birthday.
Sweetly satisfying, Something New, is a charming start to the anthology. I liked the principals and their delightful courtship (though neither realizes that’s what it is), but I was caught off guard by a steamy encounter at the end of the story. I like the sexy times, but a midday deflowering was a bit too much for this reader and this couple.
– by Elizabeth Boyle
Grade : C+ Sensuality : Warm
Happily engaged to the Duke of Dorset, Anne sends the sixpence on to Cordelia Padley, who has lived with her father in India since leaving school. Following his death, she returns to England only to discover that her father has lost nearly all of the family money in imprudent investments and reckless speculations. Cordelia, hounded by her solicitor and overwhelmed by debt, knows she has to marry. Unfortunately, her many aunts also know this and are relentless in their matchmaking, so to thwart their efforts, Cordelia invents a fictional fiancé. Realizing they’ll want to meet him at Anne’s wedding, she reaches out for help to her neighbor and former best friend, Winston Christopher Talcott, Earl of Thornton, or ‘Kipp’.
Kipp hasn’t seen Cordelia since she left for boarding school. On the day she shows up to beg for his help (with the sixpence in her pocket), Kipp is on the verge of proposing to the very wealthy, very beautiful Miss Pamela Holt. Needless to say, Cordelia’s arrival at the Thornton estate, and subsequent plea for a wedding date, throws a bit of a spanner into the works, while both exciting and confusing Kipp.
As childhood best friends, Kipp and Cordelia dreamed of the adventures they would share once they grew up. Though more than a decade has passed since their last meeting, when they meet again at the Thornton estate, both realize the deep affection they felt for one another as children still exists. Suffice it to say, Cordelia’s impromptu visit and request for help changes their lives. Something Borrowed is a sweet – if slightly boring – romance, and unfortunately, I found myself more interested in the secondary characters (Kipp’s rakish brother Andrew, and Cordelia’s slightly naughty paid companion, Kate Harrington) than the also slightly boring principals.
– by Laura Lee Ghurke
Grade : B Sensuality : Warm
When Cordelia passes the sixpence on to Elinor shortly after she weds the Earl of Thornton, Elinor hopes it will help her secure an engagement to Viscount Bluestone. She doesn’t love him; her hopes for a love match ended when her relationship with Lawrence Blackthorne ended in acrimony six months ago – but she needs him. Her beloved father has been unjustly accused of treason and Viscount Bluestone might be the only person able to keep him from being formally charged.
Hidden in the hedgerow behind Elinor and her girlfriends, Lawrence Blackthorne can’t help but wonder what their tête-à-tête is about. He overhears them talking about the sixpence and Elinor’s intent to marry Lord Bluestone. Lawrence, entrusted to build the case against Elinor’s father, has no intention of letting Elinor help her father evade justice. He confronts her shortly after the women separate, and manages to steal the coin.
Elinor loves her father (and Lawrence!), and wants to believe he’s innocent of any crime. Lawrence loves Elinor (though he tries to deny it), but knows her father is guilty of treason. Once Elinor loses the coin to Lawrence, it seems to her that she also loses her luck. Increasingly tense meetings with Lawrence (as she tries and fails to recover the coin), simply reinforce her attraction to him and highlight her growing doubts about her father’s innocence. The treason subplot lends a nice gravitas to the romance, and I liked how the intrigue – and its effect on Elinor – reveals Lawrence’s compassionate side. Elinor comes to admire his pursuit of the truth (among other things…ahem), and falls for him all over again.
Lady Elinor Daventry is a well-developed and appealing (if misguided and naïve) heroine, and Lawrence Blackthorne, her sharp, intelligent and handsome hero/adversary, is a much more dynamic principal than the men who precede him. Their chemistry is delicious and I very much enjoyed Ms. Guhrke’s contribution to the anthology.
…and a Sixpence in Her Shoe
– by Julia Quinn
Grade : B+ Sensuality : Kisses
Beatrice Heywood is the last of her friends to receive the sixpence. Though she’s skeptical about the power of the coin, there’s no denying each of her friends found love once they were in possession of it. A scientist at heart, with little desire or need to marry, Bea is more interested looking at the stars above than those in a lover’s eyes.
But fate and a magic coin have a different future in mind for Bea. Out walking one afternoon, with her head in the clouds and eyes on the sky, she accidentally knocks into another pedestrian. He steadies her with his hands, and when she finally looks up to apologize, she notices that one of his eyes (the other is injured, though she barely notices) is the exact color of the sky she was just admiring. When the handsome stranger gruffly reminds her to be careful and watch where she’s going and sets off on his way again, she’s briefly annoyed by his tone but continues on (uncomfortably – there’s a coin in her shoe) with her errands.
Lord Frederick Grey-Osbourne is annoyed by the expression on the woman’s face after she notices his injured eye. He’s mentally chastising her for running into him in the first place when he hears her voice in the shop he entered moments ago. When they’re formally introduced by the owner, Bea discovers the gentleman is a don attached to the university (Oxford), and asks about his subject, further surprising him when she follows up that question by asking if his specialty is practical or theoretical.
Lord Frederick and Bea take leave of each other after a brief, but revealing conversation about Bea’s interest in the stars and both find themselves wondering about the other over the next few days. A chance encounter leads to further conversation and before they part, they arrange for Lord Frederick to escort Bea to the local observatory.
There’s more to their courtship (though not enough!), but this is a clear case of love at first sight. And for this reader, it worked. Their attraction to each other on every level – emotionally, intellectually, physically – is both believable and romantic. The gruff facade Lord Frederick wears in public to mask his anger and hurt over the accident and his injuries, is no match for Bea’s sweet and earnest attention. Neither one manages, or even really attempts, to hide their feelings for the other. The trip to the observatory, and a brief bit of mischief from Bea’s aunt (and chaperone), finds the two of them alone, and Lord Frederick makes the most of it. It’s a delightful little scene and Ms. Quinn once again demonstrates her talent for transforming the ordinary to extraordinary. Which only makes it even more frustrating when the story concludes moments later. It’s a much too abrupt conclusion and for that reason, I’m giving this charming story only a B+.
Four Weddings and a Sixpence is a romantic, moderately steamy anthology with likeable, if slightly underdeveloped principal characters. Though I loved Ms. Quinn’s concluding story best, Ms. Guhrke’s Something Blue, is a close second.