Secrets of a Runaway Bride
This started out as an enjoyable although predictable read, which I had the feeling would be a B-ish grade by the time I’d finished. It takes up the story of Anne (Annie) Andrews, younger sister of Lily, the heroine of the previous book in this series (Secrets of a Wedding Night) and is an “adversaries fall in love” story. It’s a trope I rather like, and which when done well can be extremely engaging, but it’s fraught with pitfalls which I’m sorry to say this author didn’t manage to wholly avoid.
You have a heroine who verged on the TSTL because of her insistence on doing things simply to annoy the hero rather than engaging her brain to see that he was right, more often than not. That’s not to say the hero wasn’t without faults either – he had his dumb moments, too, such as having sworn off marriage because he’d had his heart broken five years earlier, and being unable to keep his hands off the heroine despite his frequent admonitions to himself at how wrong it was for him to grope her and snog her senseless. Although she did have a head-start in the senseless stakes…
At the end of the previous book, Annie had eloped with Mr Arthur Eggleston, a young man a few years her senior with whom she believed herself to be in love. She was intercepted by her sister’s husband and his friend Jordan Holloway, the Earl of Ashbourne, who is the hero of this book. Annie’s newly-wed sister is on her honeymoon, and has asked Ashbourne to keep an eye on Annie while she’s away, a responsibility he takes very seriously. The opening scene sees the Earl discovering her shinning up or down a happily placed vine on the side of Eggleston’s town house so that she can speak to him, and ends with Annie being peeved that her beloved was not the slightest bit put out at finding her in the arms of the Earl (after he’d pulled her off the vine!).
The first part of the book is taken up with Annie’s repeated attempts to see Eggleston and Jordan’s repeated schemes to thwart her. Even when he tells Annie she’s making a fool of herself over a man who clearly doesn’t want her and that people are starting to talk, she refuses to see that he’s telling the truth. Seeming meekly to acquiesce to his instructions to leave Eggleston alone, Annie continues to scheme.
She firmly believes herself to be in love with Eggleston (and I have to say, the best line of the book comes in a comment about his having been named after something that comes out of a chicken’s arse!) – but even she has to acknowledge that he is the sort of man who is easily swayed by whoever he happens to be talking to at the time, and starts to chafe at his lack of fervour. Yet she still clings to her idea of love; you see, Annie has grown up in the shadow of her classically beautiful sister and feels very insecure about her physical attributes having been so often compared and found wanting – and Eggleston is the first man ever to have told her she was pretty… hence, he must be in love with her and what can she do but love him back?
Jordan. Is. Gorgeous. Honestly. He is. G.O.R.G.E.O.U.S. I know this because it was repeated at least once every five pages (okay, so I haven’t really counted that it’s every five, but it certainly felt like it!) I like my heroes to be tall, dark and handsome, but I don’t need to be hit over the head with it.
By about half way through, I realised that my prediction for B-ish had been overly optimistic. For most of the book, Annie acts like a spoiled child (she’s only nineteen, and I admit to a preference for more mature heroines), which leads me to another of the pitfalls that so often occurs with an adversarial couple, that of inequality. Of course, society at this time was hugely unequal – men were dominant and the titled took precedence, but that’s not the type of equality I’m talking about. In the quintessential “dislike-to-love” novel, Pride and Prejudice, Lizzie is far below Darcy on the social scale, but she is his equal in sense and intelligence. I think this type of story needs that kind of equality to work well, and that is sadly absent here. Jordan is twelve years Annie’s senior – an age gap with which I have no problem – but the gap between thirty-one and nineteen in this story seems much, much wider given Annie’s immaturity.
It wasn’t until the last 100 pages or so that I began to think: “At last. She’s showing some sense” as Annie finally admitted to herself that Jordan had been acting in her best interests all along and trying to preserve her reputation while she’d been so intent on getting Mr Egg’n’Chips to marry her that she hadn’t cared about it. But then my hopes were dashed once more when she decided to manoeuvre Jordan into bed by enlisting the help of one of his friends!, Viscount Medford (who I believe is the hero of the next book in the series). Medford concocts some story about his having the wrong key, plies Jordan with enough gin to get him a bit buzzy but not incapable and sends him off – unknowing – to Annie’s room where, once again, Jordan finds himself incapable of resisting her so ignores his better judgement and finally has sex with her.
(That sound you can hear is me, banging my head against the desk. Repeatedly.)
The thing is, Annie knows Jordan has sworn off marriage, and hasn’t taken him to her bed so that she can force him to marry her – oh, no, she’s far more noble than that. She just wants the chance to experience the wonder of having the man she truly loves while she can, with no strings attached. I find it so, SO difficult to accept it when a young and virginal romance heroine proposes “no strings” sex because she doesn’t want the hero to feel she’s trapped him, because a woman had so few options at that time. In this case, Annie is nineteen and (now) no longer a virgin. She might be the sister-in-law of a rich Marquess, but even that won’t make her a first-class marriage prospect, and if she doesn’t marry, the most likely outcome is that she’ll end up as the maiden aunt to her sister’s children, living as a dependent.
I know, I know – this is romance and there are always going to be elements to a story that are a bit fantastical. But IMO, this isn’t one of those things. If you want your nineteen-year-old heroine to have no-strings sex with a wealthy older man man who lives by a certain code of honour, then don’t write historicals. Oh, and please don’t turn her into a sex-goddess overnight. I don’t mind a heroine participating enthusiastically, or even given a bit of a nudge by the hero to…er… do a couple of things which might not have occurred to her on her own. But for her to go from being a virgin one day to being a girl who is comfortable performing fellatio while the hero’s friend is standing outside the bedroom door talking to him made me roll my eyes so hard they hurt.
But I digress. Annie is perfectly okay with the fact that Jordan has sworn off marriage, although she has hopes – and yet the next minute, after overhearing part of a conversation between Jordan and his brother Charlie in which Jordan makes it clear he’s never going to marry “her” – gets massively upset and runs away. Of course, Jordan wasn’t talking about Annie. But she jumps to conclusions and runs off, only to encounter Mr Eggs’n’Bacon who spirits her away. Fortunately, Annie comes to her senses, tells Mr Eggles-Cake that she wants to go home… but, oh no! They are intercepted by a mysterious highwayman! Who of course, isn’t a mysterious highwayman at all.
Secrets of a Runaway Bride passed the time well enough (until it got annoyingly frustrating!) but didn’t offer anything in terms of the story, writing or characterisation to in any way differentiate it from all the other “enemies-to-lovers” stories out there. I have no objection to there being a twelve year age-gap between the hero and heroine, but she was an immature nineteen, self-absorbed and so wrapped up with what she wanted that she couldn’t see she was ruining herself. Jordan was a fairly attractive hero – apart from the oft cited good looks, he also was honourable and kind had a good sense of humour -but I never felt he was a fully-rounded character either. The writing was decent overall, although I did notice a few typos and incorrect word choices in the paperback copy I was sent to review.
All in all, I’d say if you’re going to read this book, make sure you’re in an extremely forgiving mood.