Desert Isle Keeper
The Accidental Bride
I’m happy to report that the latest offering from Jane Feather was just as enjoyable for me as most everything else I’ve read by her. An unusual setting, a strong hero who has some room to grow, and an endearing but not bubble-headed heroine made reading The Accidental Bride a real pleasure.
Cato, Marquis of Granville, is getting married for the fourth time, this time to Phoebe, younger sister of his most recently deceased wife Diana (their marriage is chronicled in The Hostage Bride, where the three young women who are the basis of this trilogy meet). Diana was everything a marchioness should be: beautiful and graceful, but also cold, vain, and non-responsive. Cato needs to maintain an alliance with her father – connections are everything just now, as the war between King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell’s supporters is heating up.
Phoebe couldn’t be more different from Diana if she tried. Plump, plain, outspoken, she is no good at bending her personality to Cato’s expectations of how she should behave. To complicate matters further, she realizes before the wedding that she’s fallen deeply in – well, if it’s not love, then it must be lust with Cato. But what to do about it? Even after the wedding, and the wedding night, he treats her as little more than just another of his responsibilities, blind to the fact that being near him, seeing him, has a profound effect on her.
Cato has no interest in Phoebe as a person – not yet. She’s merely the means to several ends for him, not least of which is the getting of a male heir (he has no intention of leaving his fortune and influence to his adult stepson, who’s chosen to cast his lot in with the king). Having been disappointed in the marriage bed in the past, Cato entertains no illusions, and behaves there in a perfunctory manner. A series of small miscommunications is leading up to a Very Big Misunderstanding that could threaten the rest of their lives together – unless somebody does something to rectify the situation, posthaste.
It’s left to Phoebe to take her courage in hand and set out to seduce her husband. This she accomplishes in a charming manner, much to Cato’s surprise. He doesn’t know what to make of her: just when he’s written her off as an untidy, drab little thing who always meddles in affairs that should not concern her, she awakens him to new perspectives, shows him a different way of looking at the world. If only he hadn’t decided long ago that he couldn’t be bothered to fall in love. . .
What a delightful story! Phoebe is endearing from page one, when Cato catches her trying to sneak out of his house, prepared to face a midwinter blizzard rather than marry him. She exhibits one of the most hilarious, and honest, and heartbreaking, reactions of a virgin on her wedding night that I’ve ever run across:
That was it! Phoebe lay still in shocked dismay. That was all there was to it. . .to this happening she’d imagined, fantasized about, dreaded, longed for. Just that in and out and then nothing!
Then Cato refuses to touch her, and she erroneously surmises it’s because he’s compared her to Diana. Her frustration, her disappointment – it’s all there in just those few sentences. I wanted to cry for her. As for Cato, I really liked him, even in the beginning when I suspected that he might be a stiff-necked pain. The reader quickly comes to see that he’s not a cold man, just one with enormous public responsibilities who wants his private life as well ordered as possible. On that wedding night, he thinks she’s repulsed by him, and that’s why he does his duty and nothing more. And he truly has no experience dealing with a wife who stands up to him.
Feather does a marvelous job of making certain the reader understands just exactly where both hero and heroine are coming from, although I did get a little dizzy with all the head hopping, from Cato to Phoebe and back again, and often to secondary characters, in the same scene. Her dialogue ripples across the pages, bringing all the characters to vivid life in a very entertaining style. And the love scenes are inventive, yet believable, one of Feather’s trademarks.
A word about the setting: most writers would shy away from planting a love story in the middle of the English Civil War, a time of upheaval, uncertainty, and shifting alliances. Not only is Feather comfortable with using this era, she does so with flair, making sense of it for the reader, even going so far as to hang a major plot point on the history of the time. Never fear, though: she has enough command of the situation to keep the romance at the forefront of everything.
Historical romance doesn’t get much better than this. The Accidental Bride is the second installment in Feather’s Bride trilogy; I’m already on the hunt at the UBS for the first. And I’ll gladly spend another few hours with Jane Feather and her characters when the third one comes out next year.