The Wedding Trap
European Historicals are what hooked me on romance reading in the first place, but it’s getting to the point where I am afraid to try a new author. I guess I’ve just read one too many by authors who seemed to be trying (and failing) to be Julia Quinn. Relative newcomer Tracy Anne Warren seemed like a safer choice, though, as my colleague Ellen liked her first book. I’m glad I gave it a try. While not perfect, it was definitely worth my time, and I found Warren to be one of the better new authors I’d tried in awhile.
Eliza Hammond has had four Seasons already, each of them an unmitigated disaster. After having given up hope of fining a husband, her aunt died, unexpectedly leaving Eliza her fortune…and disinheriting her only son, Phillip. Suddenly Eliza is an heiress. But the problems that kept her from attracting a man in the first place – crippling shyness and a complete lack of style – are just as daunting as ever. Eliza’s friend Violet has an idea that might help. Her brother in law, Kit, can coach Eliza and help her navigate the treacherous waters of the ton. Neither Kit nor Eliza is wild about the idea. Kit doesn’t want to be roped into it, and Eliza is afraid to be near Kit. She has harbored a secret crush on him since her first Season, when he danced with her at a ball and had all his friends follow suit, rescuing her from her status as a wallflower. Violet persuades them both, though, and Eliza’s transformation begins.
First to go is Eliza’s dreadful hair, which she wears in a tight bun. Kit engages London’s top stylist, and the improvement is immediate. Shortly thereafter, Violet’s sister Jeanette leads a shopping expedition, and after a rough start, Eliza agrees to more flattering colors. Then Kit tackles Eliza’s shyness. They practice dancing and small talk, and he coaches her through various social situations. At one point, they ride in the park together, and Eliza is nearly thrown from her horse. She’s rescued not by Kit, but by Lord Brevard – a handsome, dashing acquaintance of Kit’s. Brevard becomes one of her first suitors, and as the Season begins, she acquires others.
Of course, the man Eliza really wants to marry is Kit. She knows that the situation is hopeless; Kit has never really looked twice at her, and he considers himself too young to marry anyway. But as she tries to convince herself to settle for someone else, she has trouble doing so. Kit, meanwhile, has been awakened to Eliza’s charms. He’s a little clueless, and at first cannot understand why he doesn’t want Brevard (a perfectly respectable guy with honorable intentions) anywhere near his protégé. Or why the sight of Eliza surrounded by suitors annoys him. Things heat up when Eliza asks Kit to kiss her, just so she’ll know what it’s like. Soon they are meeting for “coaching sessions” that are really going a little too far. When the inevitable happens, Kit does the proper thing and offers for Eliza, who surprises him by saying no. He knows he should feel relieved, but instead he is angry and hurt. He vents his anger with some particularly unkind remarks, sending Eliza straight into the arms of another man. It takes an outside danger to bring both of them to their senses.
This story got off to a terrific start. Even though it’s the third book of a trilogy – and I hadn’t read the first two – I warmed to the characters immediately. I liked Eliza, with her painful shyness and bad hair, and her longing for something she is sure she can’t ever have. She comes across as both real and unique. There are scenes in the beginning that could have been cliché, but weren’t. My personal favorite was at the dressmakers. It’s a venue that’s been visited as often as Almack’s, but Eliza’s reaction to it is far from typical, and it serves to bring her closer to Kit. Similarly, I tend to dislike “love lesson” plots, but Kit’s tutoring didn’t come across that way.
Kit is very appealing in that “formerly selfish and oblivious man about to fall in love” way. There’s something satisfying in watching a hero like him get sucker-punched. He’s a decent guy underneath his somewhat narcissistic exterior, and he eventually realizes what everyone around him can already see: As he’s helped Eliza, she has helped him right back.
I also liked the secondary characters. The heroes and heroines from the two previous books are present, but they never overwhelm the story. Even better is Lord Brevard, who despite his status as the other man manages to be a thoroughly decent and interesting human being. What a concept.
My quibble with this book is that as much as the first part of the book avoids the hackneyed and clichéd, the second part embraces it. So much so that I could see everything happening a beat before it did. There simply must be another way to introduce conflict besides the ubiquitous “hero sleeps with heroine, hero proposes badly, heroine decides she will only marry for love and refuses” shtick. While I still liked these characters, I was discouraged to watch them go through this song and dance.
Overall, though, I enjoyed the book despite its flaws. Eliza and Kit made the story worthwhile, especially at the beginning. Warren has a talent for creating memorable characters, and I will definitely try more of her books in the future.