The Wilder Wedding by Lyn Stone
(Harlequin Historicals, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29013-6
Laura Middlebrook discovers the high price of eavesdropping one day when she overhears her brother discussing her impending death. Seems Laura is dying of a rare illness brought on by an insect bite. Before Laura can come to terms with this unexpected news, an investigator named Sean Wilder arrives to look into problems at the family shipping concern. Laura takes one look and decides that, if she's about to die, she wants to do a little living first.

Laura trails Sean to London and proposes to him. She'll turn over her not-inconsiderable inheritance to him upon her death if he'll treat her to a little life in the meantime. Sean is taken aback, but equally taken with pretty Laura. He agrees to the match and the two are wed, spending a wild night together afterward.

Sean and Laura journey to Paris, where Sean is to pick up a rare painting for a client. Before they can return to London, however, an unknown assailant shoots at Sean. Laura's life my also be endangered, and since Sean is coming to care for Laura, he decides to hide her until he can unravel the mystery. Sean's idea of hiding away is to take Laura out at night to mingle with the working class at large drinking establishments.

So begins The Wilder Wedding, a promising story which unfortunately degenerates into a tired tale of misunderstandings and old grievances. Laura finds out that her brother was, in fact, discussing a horse and she's not about to die. Her current nausea and dizziness have an altogether different cause, one that will become increasingly apparent over the next eight months. Having given her virginity to Sean, Laura is overjoyed at the news.

Sean, in typical Brooding Male fashion, immediately decides that Laura is a lying whore who faked her own virginity in order to trick him into marriage and a name for her bastard brat. He continues in this vein for the rest of the book, to literally the very last page. The author renders him so unlikable that I was almost unable to finish it. Laura is overcome by Runaway Syndrome, where she takes off every thirty pages or so, determined to have nothing to do with Sean. Until the next time he rescues her, that is. And then she gets tired of his abuse and runs off again. Sigh.

Sean, with his lousy childhood and grievances against his ex-fiancée and deceased wife, never moved me at all. He seemed more like a petulant child than a grown man. And his behavior toward Laura was boorish in the extreme. When a reader finds herself wishing the hero would disappear out of the story, it does not bode well for the reading experience.

As for Laura, we're told she's smart and determined, etc. but her actions don't bear witness to the telling. Women who go riding off alone, looking to prove something, are such a cliché in historical romance that it's darned hard to make them work. And when they get themselves into the inevitable jam, my irritation level mounts.

The author's use of modern-sounding phraseology didn't help, either. Sean worries about Laura's "self-esteem". He advises her to dress down by telling her to "lose the perfume". He worries about the Paris police asking "tons of questions" and decides they will have to "go to ground" to stay safe. His Scotland Yard pal tells him, "We have a situation here!" Considering that the book was set in 1889, I began to get a mental picture of Bruce Willis in a historical action-adventure movie. It was unsettling.

However, one reader's exasperation is another reader's delight. The Wilder Wedding didn't work for me, but I urge you to judge for yourself. Cathy Sova

--Cathy Sova

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