The Hostage Bride
Hostage Bride is the first in a trilogy by Jane Feather. Set during the English Civil War, each of these stories is linked by their heroines, Portia, Olivia, and Phoebe, who become “blood” sisters at a wedding attended by all three. Each young woman is unique, yet are united in their wish to never marry.
Portia, who is illegitimate by birth, is the most independent. Her father, himself a bastard, is the half-brother of Cato, the Marquis of Granville, who has sided with the Roundheads. Cato is Olivia’s father, and is married to Phoebe’s sister, Diana. Upon her father’s death, Portia is invited to live with Olivia and her family. Olivia will be thrilled to have her around – since dad married that awful Diana, life at the castle has been unbearable!
Portia’s had a hard lot in life – an alcoholic father, no mother, no money, nothing except her wiles. Then, on her journey to Olivia’s, Portia is briefly set upon by Cato’s sworn enemy, Rufus Decatur. Because of Cato’s father, Rufus’s family had their lands and titles revoked by the King, and Rufus wants it all back (he has decided to ally himself with the Royalists in hopes the King will reward his loyalty by returning his birthright). When he finds Portia can’t be used as a bargaining chip, he lets her go. Later, however, he decides to kidnap Olivia for ransom, but his men accidently kidnap the non-valuable Portia instead.
Portia tries to escape several times. During one of her escape escapades, rather than following through with her plan, she instead kills a Roundhead and saves one of Rufus’s men. From this point on, Portia’s relationship with Rufus is altered. Portia and Rufus have finally met their match. She is smart and will not give up, even when faced with unsurmountable odds. And, she doesn’t act like a spoiled brat. They gain a grudging respect for one another, as well as a healthy amount of lust. Portia is the only woman amid Rufus’s encampment, and in Rufus’s two, wild, bastard sons, Portia recognizes herself. Although hardly a nurturing, maternal influence, this has a softening effect on her, too.
Regardless of the love and respect they each feel toward the other, Portia realizes Rufus’s hatred for her family guides his life. She attempts to leave him, but returns in a harrowing wintery journey to warn him that Cato plans to trap him. Frozen and hungry (and with a flea-ridden puppy in tow), Portia arrives, only to have Rufus cluck over her like an old hen. He bathes her, tucks her in, and holds her until morning, when he can ravish her to their mutual delight.
But there are problems still ahead. Although Portia becomes a soldier in Rufus’s army – proving herself as worthy as any man – they settle into a routine that eventually is marred when the King reinstates Rufus’s title. When the King directs him to lay seige to the Castle, Rufus seems to enjoy too much the pain he will inflict upon its inhabitants (Portia’s family after all), which causes her pain. Too, she is pregnant – where will she and a bastard baby fit into a nobleman’s life after the war?
Author Feather has written an interesting tale filled to brimming with detail and imagery of life in the 1600’s. Romance readers who require that the hero and heroine meet at the beginning of a story will be disappointed – while Portia and Rufus do cross paths briefly a few chapters in, they really do not get together until page 80. As far as the lead characters go, I preferred Rufus to Portia; while I might admire her courage and tenacity, I could not relate to her as a woman at all.
The secondary characters were interesting, especially Olivia and Phoebe. Diana seemed rather a stock character, but Cato proved worthy enough in the end. As a romance, Hostage Bride was less than impressive, but as a piece of historical fiction, it worked rather well.