Desert Isle Keeper
After reading His Bride I tried to remember the last romance I’d read that focused almost entirely on the relationship between the hero and heroine, and you know, I couldn’t think of one. So many current romances include a mystery, paranormal experiences, the dreaded evil villain – or all of the above. The result is that the romance can be woefully overshadowed. Don’t get me wrong. I like danger or thrills in the mix as long as they are balanced by strong character and relationship development. Too often they’re not. Gayle Callen’s latest is simply and superbly about the protagonists expertly demonstrating what I’d been missing in all those “throw in everything but the kitchen sink” romances – romance.
His Bride doesn’t have a villain in the romanc-y sense, instead the hero has antagonists. Sir Edmund Blackwell received Castle Wintering and the lands surrounding it as part of his wife’s dowry. His wife, Elizabeth, was the daughter of the Earl of Langston. Now that she has died, the earl wants his lands back. Sir Edmund turns down the earl’s offer to buy the land back. Since there is no love lost between Edmund and the Langstons, he’s wary of what comes next from his former in-laws.
What comes next is the offer of Elizabeth’s cousin Gwyneth Hall as a new bride for Edmund. The Langstons will provide Edmund with much needed funds by providing a dowry for Gwyneth in return for his marrying her and agreeing that if he dies without a male heir, the land returns to Langston hands. Edmund is sure there’s more of a catch to the offer, in fact the earl as good as tells him there is, but he can’t turn down the money that will come with the marriage. He makes the deal. Edmund figures he can outwit the earl by using his money to make Castle Wintering a going concern, then annul the marriage. Of course to annul the marriage, he’ll have to resist his highly desirable new wife. And since this is a romance, that’s easier said then done.
Edmund was first introduced to readers in His Scandal when he married the scheming Elizabeth. Now an older and wiser widower, he’s determined to steer clear of entanglements with his new bride, Gwyneth. His lack of trust made me a bit nervous. Another tortured, warrior hero who treats the heroine badly because of something another woman did would wear out his welcome pretty quickly. But that doesn’t happen, and Gwyneth is the reason. Smart, funny, practical, inexperienced but not naive, she’s determined to make this marriage work and wont let Edmund run off and brood on his own.
In addition to this being one of those now rare romances focusing almost entirely on the romance, it is also one that creates suspense and anticipation about the wheres and the whens of the first love scene. The suspense and subtle humor created by Gwyn’s attempts to get Edmund into bed was astonishingly immense. Most of my reading is done in my rocking chair and when I get tense the rocking increases. The drama that increased the rocking in this reading was completely character driven. That’s a very good thing.
The gradual build-up in the relationship is just that. Gwyneth is inexorable in her own sweet, no-nonsense way and Edmund doesn’t stand a chance. He comes to love and trust her in spite of himself and there are many small, quiet moments that illustrate how this is happening. One of my favorite of these small moments comes when Gwyn realizes that Edmund didn’t trust her because he thought she might be in cahoots with the earl. He tells her:
“Gwyn, Langston gave you to me, though he hates me. I had to think there was a sinister reason for offering me a woman as wonderful as you.” Instead of saying more, he closed his mouth and appeared chagrined at what he’d revealed.
Even though Gwyn doesn’t pick up on what he’s saying in the moment, the reader does. And that’s the true strength of this novel.
Though I’m praising Ms. Callen for avoiding the use of an uber-villain, any criticisms I have are centered on Langston and his plotting. Yes he’s there to act as the deux ex machina and he’s necessary to get the hero and heroine off and running, but his plotting is a bit far-fetched and ridiculous. Why a man as powerful as he would choose such a convoluted scheme to get what he considers his is never adequately explained. Add that with the small misunderstanding that occurs far beyond the point when I would have believed it of the two protagonists and you get a slightly less then perfect grade. But only slightly, because this one is as close to just right as I’ve seen recently. If you haven’t tried Gayle Callen yet, this is a great place to start.