The first part of this book had my head spinning around like that little girl in The Exorcist. Did I love it, or did I hate it? You see, here in a single volume are one of the things I like most in romance novels (a completely engaging romance) and one of the things I like least (19th century characters plastered from head to toe with 21st century sensibilities). In the end, the romance won, hands down.
Samantha Briggeham, even at 26, has no wish to marry any of the “tiresome dolts” who regard her with horror when she tries to talk to them about mathematical equations or scientific matters. As a result, she is aghast when her well-meaning father tells her that he has betrothed her to Major Wilshire, a neighbor who finds neither her “advanced age not her keen intellect overly off putting.” She insists she won’t marry him, but no one is listening.
Sammie’s plight then comes to the attention of the Bride Thief, a masked man who has helped over a dozen young women escape marriages they didn’t want in so dramatic a fashion that the situation has drawn “national attention.” He’s not sure why this plain, bespectacled spinster would refuse such an advantageous match, but his is not to reason why. He abducts Sammie in order to provide her, as he has the other stolen brides, with a ticket to the Continent or America and enough money to start a new life. There’s just one problem - Sammie has already persuaded Major Wilshire that he wouldn’t be happy with her.
Red-faced, the Bride Thief returns Sammie to her family where, not only are there no negative repercussions from her having spent the night with this bandit, she finds herself in unprecedented demand at parties because everyone is avid for information about the daring brigand. To socially inept Sammie the attention is unpleasant, with one exception.
She finds herself inexplicably at ease in the company of Eric Landsdowne, Earl of Wesley. Eric (who disguises his activities as the Bride Thief with a cape, full-head mask and a Scots accent), at first wished only to be sure that Sammie suffered no ill effects - physical or social - from her abduction. The more time he spends in her company, however, the more intrigued he becomes.
And Sammie is hiding something under her glasses and blue stockings. Overshadowed by her beautiful sisters, Sammie has never revealed her deeply romantic heart or her longing for the passionate love she thought she would never have. Now, however, Sammie’s fantasies have not one, but two interesting subjects - the dashing Bride Thief and the charming Lord Wesley.
At this point I stop wondering about how the thieved brides managed to survive banishment from home and country, and whether or not they thought that having their choices stolen by the Bride Thief was an improvement over having them taken away by their families. I simply immersed myself in the delightful courtship of Eric and Sammie.
Eric is a wonderful hero, tender, perceptive, persistent, charmingly jealous of Sammie’s feelings for his alter ego, and possessed of one of the sexiest weapons in the male arsenal - a sense of humor. He knows that, with a price on his head and every father in England out for his hide, he is a bad bet as husband material, but the more Sammie reveals of herself the less able he is to fight his feelings.
I think Sammie is as irresistible to the reader as she is to Eric. An ordinary package with a gem inside, she wears a plain shell to protect her vulnerable heart. It was a lot of fun watching her internal struggle as Eric started to chip the shell away. She wants to believe that someone like him could want her, even care for her, but it takes courage to shed her defenses.
I suspect that even readers who, like me, prefer a high degree of verisimilitude in their historical romance will find lots to enjoy in this story. The rest of you will likely just be captivated (and wonder what I’m quibbling about).