|Wicked Delights of a Bridal Bed is going to be a love-it-or-hate-it read. I’m afraid I was more annoyed than charmed by its heroine, and the hero took a nosedive at the three-quarter mark and never recovered. Throw in a hackneyed cliché as part of the plot and this novel was a chore to finish.
Lady Mallory Byron is mourning the death of her fiancé. It’s been more than a year since Major Michael Hargreaves died on the battlefield, but Mallory still dresses in black, hardly eats, and usually refuses to leave her room. She spends her time sighing, feeling wan, and generally despairing. Since Mallory is only 22, perfectly healthy, and surrounded by a large and loving family, a big part of readers’ enjoyment of this book is going to hinge on their reaction to her determined mopiness. While I appreciate that Mallory truly did love her fiancé, this reaction felt extreme, especially given her young age. Even Mallory’s devoted family suggests it’s time for her to come out of mourning and get on with her life, a suggestion to which she reacts with horror. How dare they suggest she enjoy herself! That would sully Michael’s memory! She will never be happy again! So there.
Okay, by this time I got the impression Mallory was rather enjoying the drama of being the tragic almost-widow, and rather than make her look mature and devoted, her unblinking refusal to step out of mourning it had the opposite effect. I was reminded of nothing so much as a teenager who thinks that being a martyr will make her an adult, someone to be taken seriously. Anyway, family friend Adam, the Earl of Gresham, arrives at the annual Byron house party and browbeats Mallory into coming out of her room and putting on something other than a black dress. Adam has loved Mallory since she was sixteen, and now that he has a chance to finally make her his own, he’s not about to lose the chance.
Mallory is annoyed with her friend Adam. How dare he interfere in her mourning? She will love Michael forever and if she wants to dress in black for the rest of her life, she’ll do it! Eventually, Mallory allows Adam to drag her out of the house for walks and rides, and she begins to emerge from her shell. Then they are caught in a compromising position, and Adam does the honorable thing. They end up married.
Soon Mallory is discovering that marriage is lots more fun than mourning, and she couldn’t ask for more than to be married to her old crush, Adam, with whom she’s falling in love. And having great sex. Adam, for his part, loves Mallory deeply but is afraid to tell her how he feels.
Just as Mallory is about to put Michael behind her for good and move on with her life, the author introduces a plot element that may have readers howling in outrage. I really didn’t think she’d stoop to anything that clichéd, but there it is. Adam, who up until this point had been kind, caring, and generally pretty wonderful, does a personality about-face that made me long to smack him. Mallory sees what’s going on but can’t manage to do anything more than get indignant and cry, when what she really needed to do was get up in Adam’s face and call him on his behavior. But that would require more maturity than Mallory had going for her. Two hundred pages in, and she was still acting like a teenager.
Between the heroine, the plot, and the hero’s crumbling character, I lost patience with this book. The middle third of the story was fun, as Adam and Mallory develop their relationship. The sex is hot, and this is one instance where using a great time in bed as a catalyst to romance really works. Adam will use any means at his disposal to bring Mallory out of her funk, and if seduction works, he’s more than willing. Plus, it was a bit refreshing to read a story in which the hero is the one who is head over heels in love.
If only the author had shown some character growth in Mallory beyond falling out of love with Michael and into love with Adam, I’d have really enjoyed this story. But at the end of the book, she’s still doing the equivalent of bursting into tears and running off to her room, rather than standing up to her husband and demanding better treatment. Adam never gets the dressing-down he deserves, and that left me unsatisfied.
If determinedly tragic heroines don’t bother you, Wicked Delights of a Bridal Bed might be something you’ll love more than I did.