His Bride to Be by Catherine Blair, Catheen Clare & Hayley Solomon
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-6610-4
At least there aren’t any kittens! That was my first reaction when I received the latest Zebra Regency anthology for review. Indeed, there are no pets of any kind. Instead there are three pleasant stories about couples who find their way to matrimony despite hurdles placed in the path of true love.

In “The Rebellious Bride” by Catherine Blair, Miss Diana Quinlan arrives home from a visit to her aunt in Leeds to discover that her social climbing mother has arranged her marriage to Lord Trevlan, the son of an impoverished earl. Diana is having none of such a marriage; she has seen how unhappy similar marriages have made her sisters. She has fallen in love with John Stiles, the son of a stocking-maker and thus a fit mate for the daughter of a Cit. But Lord Trevlan is already on his way to the family’s home for a houseparty so Diana invites John as well.

Diana promptly tells Gabriel Trevlan that her affections are engaged and he gracefully withdraws his suit, despite the desperate nature of his family’s financial position. Much taken by his person, his personality, and his kindness, Diana informs Gabriel that there will be three other rich young ladies at the houseparty and that she will make it her business to see that he has a rich bride before the week is out.

Gabriel is understandably taken aback by Diana’s managing ways, but he is also attracted to her looks, her honesty and her good sense.

“The Rebellious Bride” suffers from a common problem of novellas: not enough time to develop the characters. John is presented as a grasping buffoon so that while it is understandable that he should suffer in comparison to Gabriel, it is also hard to believe that Diana ever thought she loved him. Likewise, while Diana is a fully developed character, Gabriel is not. I do like beta heroes, but Gabriel seems overly passive to me. Still, this is an acceptable story of a young woman’s discovery that her parents were right, if for the wrong reasons.

“The Impossible Bride” was my favorite of the three. Cathleen Clare offers a touching story that demonstrates the limited options that young women had during the Regency era. The Woodbridge family has a long standing tradition: the youngest daughter is expected to devote her life to caring for her aging parents. (By the way, this was a very common practice in the past.) Thus, twenty-one year old Venetia Woodbridge finds herself at the beck and call of two irascible parents who make excessive demands on their daughter. Taught from childhood that this is to be her life and mostly excluded from the social life of the neighborhood, Venetia seems resigned if not happy. All the young men know about the Woodbridge tradition, so none will bother to court her despite her undoubted beauty and charm.

Then, Darian, Marquess of Enville arrives in the neighborhood to visit his brother who has just bought the estate next to the Woodbridge’s. Darian encounters Venetia one afternoon while she is taking a brief respite from her duties. He is much struck by the lovely young woman who, unlike all others of his acquaintance, does not immediately make an effort to attract his attention. When he hears of the Woodbridge “tradition,” he is outraged at the way Venetia is treated. They continue to meet and fall in love, but will Mr. Woodbridge accept the loss of his daughter’s services, even for so brilliant a match?

Some readers may become impatient with Venetia’s passive acceptance of her fate, but I felt that the author made it quite clear why she behaved as she did. I also understood very well why the jaded Darian was attracted to this particular woman. So I enjoyed “The Impossible Bride” very much.

I should admit at the outset that I sometimes have a problem with Haley Ann Solomon’s Regencies. The behavior of the characters generally seems much too contemporary to me; they don’t act like Regency ladies and gentlemen. That being said and this fact being recognized, there is much to enjoy in “The Brambleberry Bride.”

Captain Bertram Ralston has arrived at the home of Lord and Lady Richmond to assess the possibility of making their daughter Anastasia his wife. His brother, Viscount Waverly has suggested the match. The viscount, jilted at the altar by a heartless minx, has decided that Bertram must take care of the succession and concluded that Anastasia, a childhood friend, will suit very well. Bertram is not so sure.

When Bertram arrives at the door to the salon and perceives a lively young lady dancing with a broomstick and doing cartwheels (see what I mean about un-Regency like behavior?), he is immediately smitten and offers his hand and heart on the spot. Unfortunately, the young lady is not Anastasia but rather her companion, Vivienne Townshend.

If Anastasia is not so high spirited as Vivienne, she is nonetheless a young woman of great perception. She concludes at once that Bertram is not the kind of man she wants to marry and soon perceives the attraction between her friend and her prospective husband. Before this tangled web can be untangled, the viscount himself is drawn into the situation, resulting in a most satisfactory conclusion all around.

Thus the four heart rating for this anthology. I really liked one of the stories, found another entertaining despite my reservations, and felt the other was quite acceptable. Regency readers who enjoy anthologies should enjoy this collection. But I do have to wonder how much of my positive response was due to the fact that there was not a kitten in sight.

--Jean Mason

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