I haven't read a book by Claire Delacroix in several years, which is odd since I very much enjoyed some of her Harlequin Historicals. The Beauty Bride isn't as different and original as some of her Harlequins, but it was a good way to rediscover an old favorite.
Lady Madeline of Kinfairlie has refused to marry since the death of her betrothed. This has created problems for her brother Alexander, who recently became Laird of Kinfairlie after the sudden death of their parents. Madeline is the eldest of his five sisters, all of marrying age, and the others refuse to marry until after Madeline is wed. It doesn't help that he can't afford to offer a dowry for her. So Alexander decides to auction her hand to the highest bidder, bringing him some much-needed funds while finally allowing him to see her married.
Rhys FitzHenry is on a quest to locate the last surviving member of his family. The only person preventing him from claiming his family's estate, Caerwyn, is the daughter of his cousin Madeline Arundel, who died in childbirth 23 years earlier. Rhys learns that after her death, her child was taken in by the Laird and Lady of Kinfairlie as their own. He believes that Lady Madeline is that child, and he arrives just in time for the auction for her hand. In Wales, where he's from, it's not uncommon for cousins to marry, so he bids on her, seeing an easy way to win Caerwyn for himself through their marriage.
It's bad enough when Madeline discovers she's on the block. But then the mysterious Welshman arrives and wins her. Rhys is a notorious figure with a bounty on his head for treason against the English king. Madeline has no intention of marrying a stranger, let alone an outlaw. She soon plots to escape, but getting away from Rhys is easier said than done.
This is a good medieval romance that has a little bit of everything. There are humorous moments and some very funny dialogue. Madeline is a strong, quick-witted heroine, and as she and Rhys bicker and banter, a few of her lines made me laugh out loud. Rhys is a dominating hero, but our heroine knows her own mind and doesn't hesitate to speak it. The conflict between them also leads to some more dramatic scenes, especially since he's keeping secrets from her, like the reason for their marriage. Rhys is a somewhat remote character and some of the choices he makes aren't necessarily likeable (though they're also not entirely unexpected given the time period). The clash between them makes for some effectively emotional moments, though Madeline usually forgave him easily enough - perhaps too easily.
There's also plenty of action. Most of the book unfolds as a road romance, with Rhys and Madeline traveling from Scotland to Wales with others in pursuit. I usually like road romances because of the amount of time the characters spend together, really letting them get to know each other and fall in love. This book is no exception. It's a well-paced story with a quickly-moving plot, but one which keeps the focus on the characters. Throughout the book, Rhys relates some Welsh legends and folktales, all of which are nicely told and are well-used within the story. There's even a light paranormal element, in the form of a mischief-making fairy that only Madeline's sister Elizabeth can see.
The Beauty Bride is the first of a new trilogy, to be followed later this year by The Rose Red Bride and The Snow White Bride. Fortunately, unlike so many first books in a series, it doesn't push the trilogy aspect too much. While it's obvious that another story could follow this one, it tells a self-contained story and doesn't waste too much time setting up elements that aren't used in this book. If there weren't more books ahead, this one would hold up just fine on its own. There are a few nitpicky things I could mention (for instance, the issue of Madeline's prior betrothal is dealt with in a very typical and clichéd way), but for the most part, this is a highly entertaining read, full of passion and humor, action and heart. I probably should have been reading Delacroix all along, but this was a fitting way to get back on board.
Buy it at Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes and Noble/Kobo
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