An Unwilling Bride - Jo Beverley Ahhhh...*sigh*...Jo Beverley. It's like...coming home. Reading one of your novels is like wrapping myself up in a cozy blanket and sipping some hot cocoa and marshmallows while snuggling up with my teddy bear. They are just comfy, cozy, feel good reads.

I really liked this story. Jo Beverley's historicals always set the perfect tone for the period, with the impeccably detailed settings, the lively cant and jargon, and the mannerisms at all levels of society. When I pick up one of her books, I know that I can almost always just lose myself into the experience. This book was no exception, and I really enjoyed seeing the characters and their relationship grow.

THE STORY, BRIEFLY

Through some shocking news, our heroine, 24-year-old schoolteacher Beth, is forced to confront a new reality for herself - one in which she is now betrothed to marry the glittering, dazzling and charming Lucien de Vaux, Marquess of Arden. Neither is necessarily going into this with a happy face, but neither really has the means not to be manipulated into the marriage, either. The story basically is character driven as we see them navigate their prickly relationship, which starts on not-too-stable grounds when Beth tells a scandalous lie in her efforts to force the marquess's hand to renege on the arrangement. Needless to say, Lucien's hands are tied, as well, unbeknownst to Beth. The bulk of this story is their learning to trust each other - whether it's (a) Lucien's coming to terms with Beth's lie and her independent nature or (b) Beth's becoming comfortable with Lucien's rather volatile temper and alpha approach to life. There is some intrigue that occurs in the background with a whole slew of secondary characters, who keep things lively and bring with them unexpected turns of event.

THE CHARACTERS

I liked both Lucien and Beth. There were times in the beginning of the story when they were both "feeling each other out," so to speak, that I just thought "Ugh, you're both being knuckleheads!" - but I meant it in the fondest way possible.

He was a charming rogue, and she was spunky and didn't back down. They were both highly intelligent, which would, ultimately, unite them. He didn't know that she, with her fiery independence and sharp intellect, was what he needed in his life, and she didn't know she even wanted him, with his aggressive alpha shtick and confident charm, in her life. That said, Lucien could also be a total jerkface at times, but that was usually only after Beth had provoked him monstrously. He's the heir to a dukedom and has been raised in privilege all of his life; she's been raised by her "aunt" in a girl's school and passionately supports the feminist ideals of Mary Wollstonecraft. She can't hold her tongue, and he can't hold his temper. Fireworks, anyone?

The one part that kind of shocked me, though, occurred when Lucien's temper got a little out of hand and he crossed a romance hero *gasp*-worthy line (for me). They're finally FINALLY about to consummate their marriage after weeks of no-sexytimes cohabitation when he spots what he thinks is damning evidence of her having taken a lover. This fuels her earlier lie to him that she was a hussy, and he's enraged. In his jealous outburst, he backhands her. I was like O__o, but yeah...that's what happened. She was (rightfully!) pissed and shocked, but yeah...it happened. The only thing that made it (sorta) okay in the end was that, to me, he seemed to be beating himself up about it more than she was. So yeah...he hates himself for it...he grovels and stuff...and I just reminded myself "this is FICTION."

The secondary characters are also quite delightful, and it warmed my heart to see a really sweet reconciliation of a couple of the secondary characters midway through the story. Loved it. The villains were suitably vile, the servants were cheekily full of character, and the other roguish young men (who clearly have other books in this series) were dashing. The other Company of Rogues members were numerous, and I had a bit of difficulty keeping them straight. Nonetheless, I think this book has convinced me to seek out more of Beverley's Rogues series. I had been disappointed in The Secret Wedding (part of her Malloren series) in the past, so I had thought to keep only to her traditional Regencies. Now...it looks like there's more Beverley in my future, as long as I stick to her Regency series!

ROMANCE & SEXYTIMES

This story really is about a pair of people who are thrown together through events not of their choosing. As such, the romance is rather slowly developed as we see them first get to know each other, then - warily - become comfortable with each other. It takes time to build the attraction and appreciation for each other's intelligence and wit. The build up to the sexytimes is pretty drawn out. Like...reeeeeally drawn out. A lot of time goes into their just being aware of each other "in that way," and, once they are, there are those lies and temper-temper issues that kind of stand in the way of anything physical. Once they get past the lies, they need to work towards making Beth more comfortable with the physical aspect of marriage, and Lucien plays the gentleman in that respect, recognizing that going from schoolmistress to marchioness in the span of weeks is enough to make any gal a little wary of sudden change (which, after all, the sexytimes would be for a chaste maiden).

For the pervy factor, there's a pretty good build up of tension throughout the book, but note that there's only one sexytimes scene, and it's kind of halfway-opened door. Like...it's initiated, but then we cut scene to the afterglow. The build up is really nicely done, though, and their dancing... *sigh* made me blush. :)

OVERALL

If I don't miss my guess, this book was originally one of Jo Beverley's traditional Regencies written for Signet <correction> Zebra and which she expanded. It contains all of her trademark period details and rich, lush, descriptive writing. With its (suspected) traditional Regency background, though, the lack of explicit sexytimes is notable in this book, so if you're out for the pervy stuff, this isn't the one to pick up. That said, the romance is quite lovely, and I liked seeing the characters as they grew into their relationship and learned to grow with each other.



Side note: I caught a couple of typos (e.g., "welding" when it should have said "wedding" and "sway" when it should have said "away"). Seriously, people, this is big agency publishing here! Zebra, do you want a new proofreader? You know how to reach me.