Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Bride Thief by Susan Spencer Paul

Isabelle Gaillard is a relative prisoner in the house of her Uncle. With her genius at making money and her passion for numbers and accounting, her Uncle uses her to enrich himself while threatening her with the harm to her brother should she not do as he say. However, when Justin Baldwin comes romancing her cousin, Evelyn, she can barely keep herself from telling him not to believe the lies her uncle or her cousin tell. All they want him for is his land, and she would warn him if she could, but cannot risk harm coming to Senet, her brother who is being fostered with a lord well known to her uncle.

Evelyn pushes Justin to prove his love for her by gifting her with his manor and lands in recompense, he does not give an answer, but says he knows what he must do. That night, he steals Isabelle away, telling her he was only ever there for her, not Evelyn. She cannot believe he would willingly wed her in place of her beautiful cousin, but allows herself to be convinced, and wed by Justin's brother, Hugo, a priest. However, Justin tells her he will not bed her until she can come to him without fear, and knowing that her Uncle will be coming after her, seeking to get her back, fakes deflowering her with a little blood from a cut on his arm, then gets in bed with her naked and kisses her nearly senseless.

When her Uncle finds them, he calls Isabelle a whore, until Justin shuts him up with the point of his sword. Telling her uncle that Isabelle is now his wife and she will never return to her Uncle's house, nor work for him ever again. Her Uncle tries to persuade her to return by promising her that things will be different, but she cannot believe him, and goes with Justin to his new home after a short stay with his brother.

Justin introduces her to the young boys he is fostering at the castle, all of whom were either orphans or the children of whores who came with his friend Sir Christian to help rebuild his new castle. In thanks for their efforts, Justin is teaching them the elements of Chivalry and Knightly combat, just as if they had been his squires. Isabelle settles in and charms everyone, and when her Uncle reneges on his promise to return her brother Senet, Justin and his squires go after him and return him to his sister. But he is silent and bitter, and snaps at everyone and everything, troubling Isabelle. Justin tells her to be patient. The brother she knew will never return, but hopefully she will get to know this new man who will also be her brother, and come to like him well.

Six months pass, and Isabelle blossoms under Justin's love. She is pregnant with his child, and enjoying her life at the castle when Evelyn returns. Her father, Isabelle's Uncle, has thrown her out for rejecting a man he wished her to marry, and now she has nowhere to go. She begs leave to stay at the castle for a week or so, until she can contact friends of hers to stay with. Also, she was raped by the two men who escorted her to the castle, and they stole all her jewelry. Isabelle lets Evelyn stay, but soon Evelyn is trying to cozy up to Justin. When he gets annoyed with her and seeks to escort her from the castle, she becomes physically sick and says she must be with child. Justin, pitying her, lets her stay in the castle until the Babe is born.

But Evelyn has more in mind than just staying at the castle, and soon she engineers her own cousin's miscarriage while drugging Justin and seeming to lay with him in the smithy where he crafts his swords. She also arranges for her play of sex to be seen by one of Justin's squires, driving them away from him. Then she works on Isabelle, making it seem that Justin loves her, not Isabelle, and that he is the father of Evelyn's unborn child. When Isabelle leaves the manor for the castle of Justin's brother, her Uncle kidnaps her, returning her to the same sort of slavery she enjoyed before at his hands. Isabelle prays for rescue, but can Justin, devastated that she thinks he had sex with Evelyn, put off his anger and find out that she was kidnapped so he can go to her rescue? And can he get the information out of Evelyn where her father has taken Isabelle?

This is a Harlequin Historical Romance, and given its small size, is rather truncated in story. This means a lot of the background is told rather than shown. However, I do like the fact that the misunderstandings pushing Justin and Isabelle apart were from a malicious agency rather than either one's impulse to mistrust the other, as is the case in many romances. I also liked how believable Justin's feelings for Isabelle were and hers for him. Even though he doesn't know her very well, he goes out of his way to rescue her because he finds her much more admirable than the beautiful Evelyn.

And with her Uncle and Evelyn dead at the end of the story, this was a happy ending I certainly could believe in. Maybe a short story, but very enjoyable and fun to read.

No comments: