His Blushing Bride
by Elena Greene, Alice Holden, & Regina Scott
(Zebra, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-6815-8
***
Just in time for the summer wedding season is this trio of Regency stories featuring brides-to-be at their center. As with many anthologies, it’s a mixed bag, but most Regency readers are probably going to find it entertaining for the moment.

“The Wedding Wager” by Elena Greene is the tale of Harriet Woodford, who accepts a wager (and a proposal) from her oldest friend, Julian, Viscount Debenham. Julian is determined to prove he’s capable of assuming management of his estate, tied up in trust for many years and overseen by his elderly uncles. Marriage should make just the proper statement. Harriet has her own conditions, though. In order to win the wager, and her hand, Julian must go three months without any sort of female companionship. Then she’ll know he can be a faithful husband.

Julian is more than a little in love with his dear friend Harriet, and if it takes a wager to bring about marriage, so be it. Soon Harriet is caught in a whirlwind of emotion as she realizes she, too, is in love with her dearest friend. But does he really love her? She’ll put him to the test.

Harriet and Julian are amiable characters, and if their romance lacks sizzle, it makes up for it with warmth and depth. Readers will empathize with Harriet’s somewhat blundering attempt to get Julian to notice her as a desirable woman, and with Julian’s fear that Harriet will never see him as anything but a friend. An enjoyable story all around.

Alice Holden’s “A Picture Perfect Romance” left me in awe. Here is a story that packs all the depth and development of a full-length Regency into an 80-page novella. How did she do it? No matter, readers, let’s just be glad that she did.

Philippa Westhaven is about to change her life. Overhearing a conversation between her brother and his dashing friend Devon Roarke, Lord Darrington, Philippa realizes that she will be unwelcome in the family home once her brother marries. Philippa decides to take herself off to London and her Aunt Sally and enjoy the Season she never had.

Devon is alternately exasperated and intrigued by the spirited Philippa. On the one hand, she’s a dowd, with flyaway brown hair and shapeless clothing. She also ascribes to the teachings of Mary Wollstonecraft, at least partially. Certainly not the sort of behavior a young lady ought to engage in. But when Philippa cuts her hair, buys some new clothes, and starts turning up at society events, Devon is forced to admit he’s drawn to her lively intelligence. Plus, he can’t intimidate her - she just laughs at him. But he better move fast. Philippa has a new admirer, and it looks like she’s going to accept his suit.

This story was a gem. Both Philippa and Devon are vivid characters; the author makes good use of her limited space to make every word count. The result is a story with depth and a satisfying romance to boot. Bravo!

The same can’t be said for the last tale in this trio, “The June Bride Conspiracy” by Regina Scott. Joanna Lindby is delighted with her engagement to Allister Fenwick, Baron Trevithan. She loves Allister, but she has a lot of uneasy feelings. He seems inattentive. He’s never said he loves her. She has never met any of his friends. And his job in the War Office takes him away from time to time. When she receives a terse note from Allister, breaking their engagement, Joanna is incensed.

Allister is equally uneasy about his impending marriage. He loves Joanna and she’s everything he ever dreamed of. Probably. After years as a spy, now he wants nothing more than to settle down and have a family. He thinks. When Joanna bursts into his office, throws a note in his face and demands an explanation, Allister is sure that one of his enemies has come back to haunt him. Is he putting Joanna in danger?

Joanna, afraid that Allister will tire of her after leaving his exciting life as a spy, decides she wants to live a little dangerously, while Allister decides he wants to keep her safe. Unfortunately for the reader, Joanna’s plan is to “help him in his investigation”, so while Allister is trying to find out who’s sending sinister wedding gifts and such, Joanna is determinedly barging right into the thick of things, trying to prove that she can live dangerously too.

This story was heavy with plot silliness. It might have been overlooked if the romance was strong, but Allister and Joanna are about as bland as plain oatmeal. At the end of the tale, I had no sense of any kind of love between them other than what the author told me.

So there you have it. One strong story, one acceptable, and one that falls flat. His Blushing Bride averages out to a three-heart read. But I’ll be on the lookout for more works by Alice Holden.

--Cathy Sova


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