One Wicked Night

His Lady Bride by Shelley Bradley
(Zebra Ballad, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-821-76665-1
Aric Neville, Earl of Belford is a revered warrior known to all of England as the White Lion. Long a supporter of King Richard III, Aric has a crisis of conscience when he learns that the King had his two young nephews murdered to secure the throne for himself. Sickened by the constant war and bloodshed, Aric throws down his sword to live the life of hermit.

Lady Gwenyth of Penhurst has lived a solitary, lonely life thanks to the mistreatment she received at her uncle’s hand. After the death of her parents, her uncle took over Penhurst castle only to treat Gwenyth like a common serving wench. He wants her gone for good, and orders his henchmen to drag her off to wed a local sorcerer and end a drought plaguing the countryside. If the sorcerer turns her away, the henchmen have been ordered to kill her.

The sorcerer in question is Aric. Only wishing to be left alone, he chooses not to set the surrounding townsfolk straight. But when Gwenyth is dragged to him, kicking and swearing like a sailor, Aric knows he must wed her. The thought of another dead body on his conscience is too much for him to bear.

Gwenyth is less than pleased with this development. Sure she is still alive, but living as a pauper in a ramshackle hut with a dirt floor! Ever since her uncle took over her father’s castle, where she endured sleeping on the cold floor and working in the kitchens, she has dreamed of taking her rightful place in society. She was born a lady, and by God, she’s going to attain the lifestyle.

Aric knows of Gwenyth’s ambition, but he can never return to his land and title. His own ambition has brought him nothing but misery, and innocent people their deaths. While he wants Gwenyth, he never wants to return to a life of war. Will Gwenyth ever be happy to live the life of a peasant? Will Aric forgive himself and return to his land and title? Will these two people be able to look past their own desires and realize they can’t live without each other?

For a large portion of this story, Gwenyth covets all the luxuries that come with being titled. Aric has past experience with a woman who did anything to claw her way into security, so he chooses to think the worst of Gwenyth. This sort of behavior in a romantic couple would normally infuriate me, but Bradley writes both Gwenyth and Aric so convincingly, that I immediately could understand both of their points of view.

Gwenyth thinks that luxury will bring her happiness. She was denied her birthright as a child, and she was utterly alone and miserable. She feels that by reclaiming her role as a lady, she will have stability and security. While she is an exceedingly strong willed woman, 1485 England doesn’t exactly provide a lot of opportunity, and she must rely on a good marriage for survival.

Aric is deeply wounded by his role in King Richard III’s rise to power. When he learns that the young princes were murdered on Richard’s orders, Aric places much of the blame on himself. He feels he cannot go back to a lifestyle provided for by a man who would murder children. Gwenyth’s desire for such a life, only convinces him that she should never learn of his true identity.

Historical purists may find Bradley’s recounting of events questionable. While there has never been any concrete proof that Richard ordered the deaths of his nephews, there’s enough circumstantial evidence to point in his direction. Bradley states her position on these events quite nicely in an afterward following the closing chapter.

His Lady Bride is the first in a trilogy to be published under Zebra’s Ballad imprint. Future installments will follow Aric’s close friends and fellow warriors - Keiran, a first class rake with a thirst for adventure, and Drake, a wounded man hungry for revenge. Bradley has a winning premise for a first rate trilogy, and I eagerly await the future titles.

--Wendy Crutcher

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