By Cathy Maxwell
Publisher: Avon Books
January 28, 2014
For years Lady Aileen Davidson, eldest daughter of the Earl of Tay, had dreamed of life beyond Annefield, her home in Scotland’s Valley of Tay, and the love she would discover in that larger world. At nineteen, she thought her dreams were coming true. But her dreams turned into a nightmare of abuse and fear. Six years later, she returned to Annefield in disgrace, banished from London where her divorce scandalized society and the Criminal Conversation trial her husband insisted upon branded her a wanton. Three years after her return to her home, Aileen has found peace even if the love that was once her goal seems only the illusion of a silly girl. Her younger sister Tara, after three highly successful seasons, is about to be married, and, although Aileen’s ruined reputation means that she is not invited to the wedding, she prays her sister will find the happiness that escaped Aileen.
Aileen is surprised when she recognizes the smelly, poorly dressed boy who suddenly appears at Annefield as her sister. Tara, having decided that she loves the man she rejected three years ago, has run away from her father and her soon-to-be husband to declare herself to her father’s horse trainer, Ruary Jamerson, ignoring the repercussions of her action. She also is blind to the fact that in three years Ruary has moved on with his life. In fact, Tara is pretty much blind to everything except her own concerns.
Blake Stephens, the oldest and illegitimate son of the Duke of Penevey, is the man Tara has decided to jilt. Recognized by his father and wealthy through his own acumen and efforts, he is accepted by society but always with the awareness that he is a bastard. Blake has spent his life besting his six-months younger, Penevey’s legitimate son and his heir, in everything the younger son attempted. When his brother begins to court Lady Tara, London’s reigning beauty, Blake takes personal satisfaction as well as pleasing his father when the beauty who has refused his brother says yes to Blake’s marriage proposal. When Tara runs away just before the wedding, he joins her father in pursuit. Although Blake has already begun to suspect Tara was a bad choice, he does not welcome the humiliation that will come with her jilting him.
All these threads come together as all the characters end up at Annefield. It doesn’t take long for Blake to realize that he is betrothed to the wrong sister. Aileen’s intelligence, maturity, and passion are more than he ever dreamed of finding in a woman, and he wants nothing more than to spend his life with her. Aileen loves Blake beyond measure, but she refuses to claim her happiness at the cost the scandal of Blake’s jilting Tara would exact from both of them. She will marry Blake only if Tara breaks off her relationship with him. Tara’s presence also creates tension between Ruary and Jane Sawyer, the woman to whom he is betrothed. Tara refuses to break her engagement to Blake until she knows Ruary will jilt Jane and marry her. Amid all the twists and triangles, happily-ever-afters seem impossible for anyone involved.
The first book in Maxwell’s Brides of Wishmore series is an extraordinary, double-triangle tale. The heroine is a divorcee and an admitted adulteress, the hero is a bastard with father issues, and the pivotal character is a secondary character at the center of both triangles. Since Maxwell gives the story from the points of view not only of Aileen and Blake but also of Tara, Ruary, and Jean, the reader has an unusually rich perspective of motivations and reactions. Readers may not always like the choices these characters make, but they will understand why they make them.
I adored both Aileen and Blake. They are not stock protagonists but rather layered characters who have survived adversities severe enough to devastate weaker characters. However, these two emerge stronger with a core of compassion and a clear-eyed view of humanity, albeit with a touch of cynicism about the realities of love. My only quibble is that I would have liked to know more about their pasts. The details about Aileen’s marriage, affair, and divorce and about Blake’s rise to power are sketchy.
I liked the secondary love story as much as the primary one. Ruary, like Blake, is a self-made man. His pride in his achievements is touching, and I found Jean a believable, endearing character. The resolution to their story left me a bit teary-eyed.
I did not like Tara. She seemed a spoiled, self-centered brat suffering from an advanced case of emotional tunnel vision until the very end. But the redeemed heroine is one of my favorite tropes, and Tara is the heroine of the second book in the series, The Bride Says Maybe, a February 25 release. I look forward to seeing how Maxwell transforms her. The trilogy concludes September 30 with the release of The Groom Says Yes. If you like fast-paced romances with characters who are refreshingly different and a range that encompasses more than one level of society, I recommend The Bride Says No. I’m betting that once you read it, you will join me in eagerly anticipating the next two books in the series.
Like most of you, I have character types that are favorites, but I also enjoy characters who shatter some of the rules of romance as Aileen Davidson does. How do you feel about rule shattering?