Every once in a while a book comes along that I know I shouldn’t like. It’s got characters who I want to throttle and conflict that makes my head hurt, but I can’t seem to stop reading. I became entranced by the story. The writing sucks me in. Or maybe it’s just the simple matter of the book finding me in the right place at the right time. It was these mysteries I was pondering after I finished the last page of Annie Burrow’s latest Harlequin Historical at the hour of 1:30AM. An insanely late bedtime for this mild-mannered librarian.
Charles Fawley, Earl of Walton has just been dumped. With Napoleon safely ensconced in Elba, he took it in his head to spend some time in Paris. There he met the enchanting, beautiful and beguiling Felice Bergeron. He has given her a gorgeous engagement ring, and is all set to announce their impending marriage when the chit runs off! She not only has the nerve to leave him, she had the gall to leave him for a penniless artist! Now that she has slipped away like a thief in the night, Charles is quite vexed. His pride in tatters, he’s in his Paris apartments wallowing some more when in strolls her older sister, Heloise, with a most outrageous proposal.
Heloise suggests that they marry. After all, people were just assuming that Charles was smitten with Felice, and Heloise always served as their chaperon. All he has to do is parade her around and people will know that it’s really Charles and Heloise who are in love. Charles will be able to salvage his pride, he’ll get a biddable wife, and in return Heloise escapes marriage to the odious, vile and murderous man her parents have picked out for her. Partly because her plan is ingenious, and partly because he knows the man her parents want to marry her off to, Charles agrees.
What follows is the story of two people are feel completely unworthy of love and their total lack of knowing how to communicate with each other. Normally I’m a sucker for characters with inferiority complexes who blossom through love and romance, but the entire plot hinges on a Big Misunderstanding. Instead of doing something really outrageous, oh like actually talking to each other!, Heloise and Charles like to jump to conclusions.
For example, Charles takes his wife to his country home, and she immediately assumes he’s going to dump her off there and go live in London full time because she’s a terrible wife. Heloise befriends Charles’ younger brother, and Charles immediately thinks the two are having an affair. Charles gifts Heloise with the priceless family yellow diamonds, and all she can think about is how he cares so little for her that he didn’t buy her a shiny, flashy, “new” bauble like her sister’s engagement ring. Sigh, and this goes on for the whole novel. No, not the first 50 pages. Not even the first half. The entire novel. This Big Misunderstanding sticks around to the bitter end, and isn’t concluded until the final pages of the novel when the hero and heroine finally decide to sit down and talk like adults.
Ah, those crazy kids!
This is normally enough for me to hurl the book towards the nearest wall and slap the story with a big fat F. So how come I didn’t do that, and how come I’m not going to? Because despite conflict that makes my head hurt and two characters I wanted to slap silly, I could not put this book down. First, it’s tone and style reminded me very much of a Traditional Regency, a rare and almost extinct creature in romance publishing. While I have never been a big fan of trads, it’s been such a long time since I’ve read one, that I immediately got sucked into the story. Chalk it up to a stroll down memory lane. Also, and this can’t be overstated, Annie Burrows can flat-out write. I really got sucked in, and happily kept lapping up page after page until I finished the last sentence and realized it was 1:30AM.
Unless you’re a hopeless devotee of the Big Misunderstanding plot, I can’t really recommend The Earl’s Untouched Bride. However, I do recommend giving Annie Burrows a look. As many issues as I had with this book, I wholeheartedly await her next release.
Fearing a forced betrothal with a man known for his cruelty, Heloise Bergeron throws herself on the mercy of Charles Fawley, Earl of Walton. He believes himself attracted to her younger, beautiful sister, so what is he doing entertaining thoughts of marriage to the plain, quiet Heloise? But marry her he does.
Returning to England with a convenient wife, who inspires a very inconvenient desire, Charles is about to discover just how untouched his French bride really is….