I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy the third installment of Debbie Raleigh’s trilogy about three ex-soldiers who are “blessed” by an old gypsy woman whose life they saved. She promised each that he would find true love by the time that summer began. But as I began A Bride for Lord Brasleigh, I feared that the finale would not measure up to the previous stories. But Raleigh cleverly turned the tables on the hero and thus won me over.
A Bride for Lord Brasleigh is a guardian/ward tale, an old favorite plot which has fallen out of favor. Philip Marrow, Lord Brasleigh, had promised his dying colonel that he would take his daughter under his care. His idea of providing for his ward was to set her up with a companion in one of his estates. But Bella Lowe is not happy; she drives away the companions and creates difficulties for the staff.
So Philip decides to find her a suitable husband and marry her off. He chooses the handsome émigré, Andre LeMont, who is charming and pleasant and whose only detriment is his managing mother. But Bella is not pleased to be told to wed a man she has never met and so flees. Philip’s butler follows and is able to inform his master that, after nearly falling afoul of some drunken sailors, Bella had been given refuge by Lady Stenhold. She is masquerading as the widowed Mrs. Anne Smith.
As Lady Stenhold is one of Philip’s best friend’s aunt, Philip and said friend head off to Surrey. Philip is planning to reclaim his ward, but first he is going to teach her exactly how dangerous life is for an unprotected young woman so that she will be happy to marry the man he has chosen.
Bella is obviously distressed and dismayed when her guardian arrives at her refuge, but she has no fear that she will be recognized. After all, Lord Brasleigh never bothered to make her acquaintance. She becomes even more perturbed when Philip begins to pay her unwanted attentions. Her guardian, unbeknownst, seems determined to seduce his ward.
For his part, Philip finds his pretend seduction is no chore. Bella is a lovely, petite blond; she is charming and intelligent. And if she melts when he kisses her - not surprising perhaps given her inexperience - his lordship finds those kisses strangely moving.
Up to this point, I was not exactly happy with the story. Philip’s actions rather annoyed me. But then, the worm turned, and my enjoyment increased markedly. Add to this the arrival on the scene of Bella’s intended and his overbearing mother, and Philip’s growing confusion and. . . well, let’s just say that I liked seeing the seducer seduced and turned into an unhappy, confused fellow.
As I indicated above, my first response to the hero was no more favorable than his ward’s. However, Raleigh succeeds in redeeming his character and making him more attractive, both to the reader and to Bella. The heroine I liked from the outset. If her flight seemed a bit reckless, I could sympathize with her unwillingness to be forced into
marriage with a man she had never met. And she learns from her experiences and does not make the same mistake twice.
Guardian/ward romances, while popular with many readers, have never been at the top of my list of preferred plots. There is often an unbalance of power between the hero and the heroine and likewise, frequently, a significant disparity in age. Raleigh deals with the latter problem by making her heroine twenty-three; she is still under guardianship because she will not inherit her modest fortune until she turns twenty-five.
Raleigh never quite solves the former issue. The fact is that it would have been nearly impossible for Philip to force Bella to wed the man he chose. She is, after all, of age and he has little leverage to compel her to fall in with his plans: which, I suppose, explains his devious plot to “scare” her into marrying. This niggling problem did detract a bit from my enjoyment of the story.
Still, on the whole, I enjoyed A Bride for Lord Brasleigh and feel comfortable recommending it, especially to those who have read the first two books in the trilogy. Raleigh writes good Regency romances and should be encouraged to continue doing so.