(Scandalous Seasons, 1)
Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)
Hopeless romantic, Lady Emmaline Fitzhugh, is tired of sitting with the wallflowers, waiting for her betrothed to come to his senses and marry her. When Emmaline reads one too many reports of his scandalous liaisons in the gossip rags, she takes matters into her own hands.
War-torn veteran, Lord Drake devotes himself to forgetting his days on the Peninsula through an endless round of meaningless associations. He no longer wants to feel anything, but Lady Emmaline is making it hard to maintain a state of numbness. With her zest for life, she awakens his passion and desire for love.
The one woman Drake has spent the better part of his life avoiding is now the only woman he needs, but he is no longer a man worthy of his Emmaline. It is up to her to show him the healing power of love.
FOREVER BETROTHED, NEVER THE BRIDE is the first book I have read by Christi Caldwell and I was totally captivated by this charming, romantic, funny and poignant story.
Drake resents the fact that his future had been mapped out for him since he was a young boy. Desperate to escape the exacting expectations imposed by his father, he enlists in the army only to find himself caught up in the horrors of the Napoleonic war…a war that he can never forget.
He would never escape the war. His mind would forever remain on the bloody fields of battle.
Sleepless nights, hellish nightmares and bouts of lost self-control convince him that he is a madman. To retain a hold on sanity, he buries himself in mindless pursuits… drink and women…his relationships devoid of any emotional connection. He has no intention of marrying…he has no intention of submitting any woman to his dark nightmares. Although betrothed to Emmaline for fifteen years, their contact has been limited and, since his return from the war, he has deliberately avoided her. So he knows very little about Emmaline until one memorable encounter leaves him eager to find out more about his intriguing betrothed.
Wallflowers were content to be dull creatures seated on the sidelines, escaping any notice. They were not clever young ladies with cheeky retorts.
A little over 5 feet tall and lacking the requisite curves, Emmaline is considered rather unremarkable by the ton. Everyone knows she is betrothed and, therefore, honour dictates that no other gentleman can court her. Relegated to being a virtual wallflower and food for the gossips, she has suffered the indignities with only her dear friend, Sophie for moral support. Although she longs for a marriage full of love and passion, her strong sense of loyalty to her father makes her determined to fulfil her obligation and marry Drake. Drastic situations require drastic measures.
“There will be no more opera singers, ballet dancers, young widows, none of it. His days of carefree debauchery are officially at an end. He just doesn’t know it yet, but he will, beginning tonight.”
Oh, Emmeline is such a delightful heroine…mischievous, courageous and funny. Oh yes, she also talks to plants and reads Gothic novels. When she decides to ‘stalk’ Drake, I thought it was hilarious. My favourite scene is when she suddenly appears unannounced in his opera box, proceeds to rebuke him for his behaviour and then makes a dramatic exit, leaving Drake furious.
Drake sputtered around another mouthful of red velvet curtains as Lady Emmaline made her dramatic exit from his opera box. Cursing under his breath, he violently slammed the drapes down, back into place.
I even felt a little sorry for Drake…poor man didn’t know what hit him!
Emmaline’s compassion for and empathy with the soldiers she visits in the London Hospital has earned her their respect, admiration and loyalty. It also helps her to understand Drake and see beyond the protective barrier Drake has erected around himself to the emotionally scarred man beneath. She is perfect for Drake with her warmth, compassion and insight, she makes him laugh and feel alive again.
I love tormented heroes because they always have a tougher time on their road to a happy ending but, it makes their journey more satisfying to me as a reader. Drake’s struggle to confront his wartime experiences and not run from them adds a serious note to the story and the scene where he visits the London Hospital and talks to fellow soldiers is both poignant and heart-warming.
A wave of relief filled him. There was solace in knowing he was not alone – that there were others who shared his struggle.
I love the analogy Emmeline’s brother, Sebastien draws between her old bonnet and Drake and it was a charming touch at the end when Sebastien says to a confused Drake…
“Tell Emmeline to throw out the bonnet I’d given he. Tell her I said her bonnet is just fine.”
Ms Caldwell has gathered an interesting cast of secondary characters, all begging for their own stories; Drake’s best friend, the straight-talking, witty Lord Sinclair (I loved their banter); Emmaline’s bubbly friend and confidante, Sophie Winters and Emmeline’s haughty, over-protective brother Sebastian, Duke of Mallen (he doesn’t stand a chance when Emmeline and their mother gang up against him). There is one more important character I must mention – a little, scruffy, black puppy called Sir Faithful.
Overall, this was an engaging story written with warmth, wit and style and I will definitely be reading the other books in the series.
REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS
SENSUALITY RATING: HOT
Read September 2014
Scandalous Seasons series (click on the covers for more details):