- Marriage (sorta) of convenience (ish)? Check!
- Heroine with amnesia? Check!
- I’ve known you all my life–epiphany/where you been all my life? Checkeroo!
Ladies and gentlemen, we are GO FOR LAUNCH into historical wonkery, thanks once again to the deft hand of Sherry Thomas.
“But Del,” you may be saying, “These are all standard historical romance tropes! What could possibly be wonky here?”
To you I say: Sherry Thomas, that’s what’s wonky here. And despite its outwardly conventional trappings, Tempting the Bride is just as deliciously full of wonk as all her other books. With an extra bonus bit of wonk thrown in that I’ll describe at the end!
Our hero, David Hastings, has been infatuated with the heroine, Helena Fitzhugh, since about puberty. She’s always seen him as the short, dorky fourteen-year-old pipsqueak who tried to lure her into a closet for illicit kisses in which she wasn’t remotely interested. That has set the tone of their relationship ever since, as far as she’s concerned, and he’s secured his position as a pervert in her eyes by sending her an illustrated kinky erotic novel to publish (Helena runs her own publishing company). The book is pretty much a thinly disguised verbal wankfest about him force-marrying her and subjecting her to all sorts of barely consensual erotic delights while tied to his bed, so her pervert assessment isn’t completely off the mark. He obviously wants to play Petruchio to her Kate, with extra bondage (yeah, they’ll act some of that out later, of course). It doesn’t help that he has an acknowledged bastard child living at his country home, a living testament to his overall dissolution.
As he’s matured, though, David has come to take a more protective view of Helena. She needs protecting because she’s independent-minded to the point of endangering herself. Since she’s in business, she’s out and about in ways most gently bred young ladies are not. And although she’s still technically a virgin, Helena has also been carrying on for years with a married man (she’s his publisher, too). She’s loved Andrew, the married man, nearly as long as David’s loved her, and the book begins with David catching her sneaking back from Andrew’s room at a house party. She’s unpleasant about it and David’s jerky, because she’s kind of unpleasant and he’s kind of jerky.
Helena’s family, understandably concerned, has even tried to spirit Helena away to America for an extended vacation, hoping she’ll meet somebody else and mend her reckless ways (a previous book in the series follows that trip, which is also the occasion of a very wonky romance for Helena’s sister). That, of course, didn’t work. When she comes back, she and the married dude carry on as before, and eventually gossip-mongers find out, like they do. And lure the unsuspecting adulterers to a hotel, like they do. And burst into the room to catch them in the act, like they do. Only they don’t, because David follows Helena and, in the nick of time, takes her sorta-lover’s place and tells the gossipmongers that Helena is the brand new Lady Hastings and they’re on their honeymoon so GTFO. It’s a lie, of course, but he intends to back it up with a real marriage as soon as possible. Because he still loves her, even if she is a shrew.
One things leads to another, Helena runs after her lover and gets a whack on the head from a passing carriage, yadda yadda, amnesia. And also while they’re operating on her head it has to be shaved, so she’s pretty much bald for most of the rest of the book. Heh.
Oh, and because of the accident, the wedding doesn’t take place as planned. So everybody thinks they’re married but they aren’t actually married.
At this point in almost any romance book with this plot line, one might expect the tension to come mostly from the heroine’s lack of memory and the hero’s reluctance to reveal that she used to sort of hate him. Then a dramatic reveal and denouement at the end, right? But Helena actually gets some memory back (not necessarily the bits with icky teen David in them) fairly quickly, and David is too honest to hold out for long before he confesses that she wasn’t fond of him before the bonk on the noggin. And I loved that about this book. Because it meant they got that initial push – the amnesia allowing her to see him without preconceptions for awhile – but other than that, they had to work out the relationship from the ground up. It’s awkward and sometimes slow going as they pick their way through, and you can sort of see the workings of their brains as they go.
While they’re doing that, Helena also gets to see David with his illegitimate daughter. Who’s apparently autistic or maybe just severely emotionally disturbed, and was possibly abused as an infant before he brought her to live with him. She isn’t just shy, or only in need of affection to blossom, or just slow but charming and somehow wise. She’s really disturbed and spends many of her scenes hiding in a trunk because her routine has been disrupted. He doesn’t really know how to help her, but he has good instincts, and it’s pretty wonderful. And (this isn’t really a big spoiler or anything) he is also the secret author of a series of wildly popular children’s books Helena publishes, which Helena figures out because the style of the art in the erotic novella (once she reads the whole thing) is so similar to that of the children’s books. Which he wrote for his daughter originally, of course. I found it deeply whacked in the best way that she made this connection.
Then some other stuff happens and they all live happily ever after, but I won’t fill in the blanks because spoilers (spoiler: not all that much else in the way of plot happens, but I really didn’t care).
So it’s your basic snarky-erotica-writing-rake-with-autistic-daughter-meets-shrewish-publisher-having-affair-with-a-married-man-plus-amnesia-and-forced-marriage story. With some bondage, also. It is historical wonktastical crack.
And as a bonus smut-biscuit, Sherry Thomas straight up wrote the erotic novella that the hero wrote, and published that too. Because she is awesome, that’s why. So there is bonus kinky smexin’, historical-style! It’s The Bride of Larkspear, a steal at only $2.99 on Kindle.
I only wish we’d also gotten the illustrations.