The Winter Bride
Being a fan of Anne Gracie and having read the first book in this series, The Autumn Bride, I was hopeful that The Winter Bride would be a little bit better than its predecessor, and it was. But there were still a few problems with this book that will keep it from getting DIK status from me.
Damaris Chance is one of four girls who have been informally adopted by Lady Beatrice Davenham (“Aunt Bea”) after they escaped from a brothel and then ended up rescuing Aunt Bea from the decline in health she suffered when indifferent servants were left to take care of her. Aunt Bea is so grateful for their intervention that she creates an entire persona for the girls that have the ton believing they are the offspring of a foreign count. After successfully engineering the marriage of one of the “sisters,” Aunt Bea is determined to have the rest of them gain successful matches as well. Damaris is fully convinced that marriage is never in her future and while Aunt Bea plans wardrobes, Damaris is secretly earning money painting china so that she can set herself up in a cottage somewhere in rural England.
The Honorable Frederick Monkton-Coombes is the best friend of Lady Davenham’s nephew Max, Lord Davenham. When Max is about to embark on his honeymoon, he asks Freddy to watch over Aunt Bea and the other “Chance sisters” while he is gone. Aunt Bea is an irascible old lady and Max does not trust her where potential scandal is concerned. Freddy is appalled and tries to wiggle out of the obligation, but Max finally pins him down. For the duration of Max’s honeymoon, Freddy is sentenced to the company of “muffins” (his term for girls on the marriage mart) and literary parties. Freddy is attracted to Damaris Chance, but because of something in his past, he has no intention of settling down any time soon, if ever, and being in the close proximity of “muffins” makes him antsy.
Then one night (or early morning as it were) when he is returning from a night of drinking, he spies Damaris walking alone along the streets of London. Shocked and worried for her safety, he follows her. He discovers her secret employment and her determination to keep painting china for money. With his promise to Max firmly in the forefront of his mind, he appoints himself Damaris’ keeper and begins to escort her to and from work. In the midst of all of this, Freddy learns that his parents have organized a house party to find him a wife that coincides with the anniversary of his older brother’s death. In the years since Freddy’s brother died, he has only returned home to mark the anniversary of his passing. His parents are using that knowledge to force him to marry. Damaris has told Freddy that she never plans to marry and so he feels comfortable asking her to enter into a sham betrothal to thwart his parents’ plans. Damaris reluctantly agrees and then travels with Freddy to the home seat to meet the parents.
The character of Freddy is initially one of a useless fribble, but still waters do run deep and over the course of the book that depth is slowly revealed. From an attitude that is just shy of nonchalant misogyny, even for that era, to a deeply hurt and troubled young man, I came to care about Freddy and the pain he has endured. Damaris is a likeable character from the beginning and as her backstory is revealed, compelling as well. However, her big secret drags on just a little too long and seemed to overshadow her personality. How many romance books are there where the heroine feels she is not worthy of an honorable man’s love? This book seems to take that trope to an extreme that had me frustrated instead of intrigued.
While the main ending between the hero and heroine is satisfying, a situation with some secondary characters was tidied up in a manner that left this reader asking, “What???” But overall I did enjoy the book, and while it is not the best book I have read by Anne Gracie, it is one Gracie fans ought to go out and buy.