Once A Bride is a follow-up for The Ideal Husband. The romance in this story is superior over that one, but the lack of a realistic setting is similar. This is a medieval era story that reads more like a contemporary. If you can live with the lack of historical feeling, then you can easily enjoy the romance.
The plotline is simple. John Hamelin of Lelleford has been accused of treason against King Edward. An adversary, the Earl of Kenworth, has arrived at the keep to arrest him. In his contingent is Roland St. Marten, a knight the King has ordered to secure Lelleford and keep it safe until the matter has been resolved. But Hamelin has left, deciding to run in order to buy himself time to figure out how best to proceed. He left his daughter behind to deal with these two men.
Eloise Hamelin has a history with Roland St. Marten. She was betrothed to his brother Hugh, but Hugh died on the steps of the church from a heart attack before they could say their vows. At the time, Eloise had been attracted to Roland but discovered herself in his disfavor when she overheard him try to talk Hugh out of marrying her. She has not forgiven him.
Roland, on the other hand, remembers Eloise as a headstrong, independent woman who he felt attracted to and even some affection for at the time. However, he felt she would run roughshod over the sensitive Hugh and hence tried to discourage his marriage. Now they are thrown together to figure out how to save Lelleford and Eloise’s father.
The mystery of why John has been accused of treason is the backdrop for the story. The story opens at Lelleford and then moves on to London. Here is where the lack of realistic setting is most notable. At a time when travel was never taken lightly, Eloise takes off on a horse for a multi-day journey with just a messenger as a guide. The hardships usually described in stories set in this era are non-existent. Roland catches up to her and of course, she convinces him to take her to London. Again, the travails of lone travelers are glossed over and they ride into London, find lodgings over an apothecary’s shop without trouble, and life goes on.
The second half of the story rests more on solving the mystery before Hamelin is executed by the King. Roland and his good relationship with the King plays a part, as does Eloise’s brother Geoffrey (from The Ideal Husband) as he comes to help his father. It is a decent story although somewhat predictable in resolution.
The heart of the novel is the romance between Eloise and Roland. Theirs is a love that slowly unfolds as they fight their mutual attraction, yet recognize it for what it is. They fall into an affair rather easily for the times, as Eloise thinks nothing of losing her virginity to a man not her husband. While it made the romance smooth, it did not seem to fit the context of the times.
Overall, Once a Bride is an entertaining and engaging romance with humor, a satisfying romance, a smart heroine, and a manly hero who is not afraid of a strong woman. He doesn’t try to change her; rather he loves her strength. If you can forget that this is highly unique in the 1300’s then you may truly enjoy the story.