The names have been changed, but readers familiar with Edith Laytonís short Regency novels will find To Tempt a Bride reminiscent of the authorís The False Angel without the Edward Blake manuscript. Both feature a hero and heroine obviously made for each other and a sweet young snake in the grass obstructing the course of true love.
When Eric Ford becomes suddenly ill with an attack of malaria, Camille Croft, who is secretly enamored of Eric, alerts her brother and his friends. They realize immediately what has happened and follow Eric. They find him in the street, beaten. He had tried to rescue a young woman who was being sold by a man and begged for Ericís help.
Nell Baynes claims she came to London in search of her aunt. When she arrived in town alone, she was lured to a brothel. When she escaped, she was seized by another man who tried to sell her.
The first order of business is caring for the gravely ill Eric. Until Nellís relatives can be located, she will stay with Camille, her brother Miles and sister-in-law Belle. It is not an arrangement that is comfortable for Camille and her sister-in-law. It is soon apparent that Nellís interests are not as pure as they might be.
After recovering, Eric is able to locate Nellís cousin, Dana Bartlett, a solicitor. Dana knows that his cousinís acquaintance with a retired courtesan has led her to set her sights on following the same path. It furthers his ambitions, however, for her to continue to live with Camille. He sees the possibility of improving his situation by marrying her.
Eric believes himself unsuitable for Camille even though he is aware she wants him. He wants to give her time to be sure of her feelings before declaring himself. Nell has her own agenda and it is not furthering the love of others.
Ms. Layton has been chronicling the romances of friends and relations through a series of interrelated books, many with titles beginning with the letter C. Theyíve gotten so numerous that Iíve lost track of whoís who and who belongs to whom. Many of these characters from previous books with ties to both the hero and heroine make reappearances in To Tempt a Bride, and they do not play minor roles. Even though I had read the earlier books, at times I found it a struggle to sort them all out. Readers who arenít previously acquainted with the various characters are likely to feel at a loss.
Camille is a stock character Ė insecure about her size and appearance and so, so nobly sacrificing herself. While it is obvious that Camille is supposed to be the heroine, Nell and Dana are more vividly portrayed. At times I even found myself half hoping that Dana would be successful in his pursuit of Camille. †He's right: the times are changing; if this story were set two centuries in the future, he'd probably be the hero.
I have long admired Ms. Laytonís novels Ė first her short Regencies and then her full-length works. Her grasp of the historical era adds a depth to her narratives that is often missing from authors who are not as well grounded. Possibly the best aspect of To Tempt a Bride is a peek at the underbelly of a society where so many lived desperate lives.