Scandal's Bride, by Stephanie Laurens (Cynsters #3)

>> Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Surprisingly, Stephanie Laurens' Bar Cynster series just keeps getting better. Scandal's Bride (excerpt) is the best so far. It will be hard for Laurens to top this book in the next one!

When Catriona Hennessy, honorable Scottish Lady of the Vale, received this prediction, she was exceedingly aghast. How could she unite with a rake like Richard Cynster--a masterful man with a scandalous reputation? More shocking still was her guardian's will that decreed she and Richard be wed within a week! Though charmed by his commanding presence, and wooed by his heated kisses, she would not--could not--give up her independence.

So she formed a plan to get the heir she needed without taking wedding vows.Richard was just as stunned by the will's command. Marriage had not previously been on his agenda, but lately he'd been feeling rather...restless. Perhaps taming the lady was just the challenge he needed. But can he have the rights of the marriage bed without making any revealing promises of love?
Beautiful. Just beautiful. An A+. How could I ever have disliked this book?

How many times have I read and hated books where the heroine for some reason needs to have a child, so she finds some way to sleep with the hero (drugs him, or goes to him in disguise, or something) to conceive? I've very seldom enjoyed books like this, because these situations seem to me contrived and unbelievable, but here it was different. I found it intriguing and exciting, and I couldn't wait to see what would happen and how Catriona and Richard would react to the other's moves.

I jost loved this first part of the book, even though it wasn't perfect. The problem was basically that, though Laurens is very good with love scenes, they are a trifle too long and too many in the first half. There was a point when I wanted them to get on with the plot. Later on, while the lovemaking is still abundant, there's a bit less of it and it's better. Still, even when it seemed like they were going at it like rabbits every other page, I never even thought of skimming. The love scenes were very much an important part of the book, and a lot of the relationship's development happened in them. This is not one of those books where you could cut out the love scenes and still have an almost intact story. Much better this way.

Ok. After this part, they finally marry and leave for the Vale. At this point, I worried. I actually left the book aside for a while because I was so sure there was no way it would continue to be as good as it had been until that point, and I guess I just wanted to savour the first part, unruined by an unsatisfying ending, for a little while. You see, Richard promised right at the outset not to interfere with Catriona's duties as Lady of the Vale in any way, but... I suspected he would. He would see her making what he thinks is a mistake and he wouldn't resist offering his opinion, and she would refuse to listen, and so he would feel that he needs to "enforce his authority" or something. He would of course be right, and I'd get pissed off. Because, of course, a romance hero has to dominate. A guy willing to defer to his wife is not a real man, or so most romance writers seem to think.

Well, Stephanie Laurens isn't one of them. Richard respected Catriona and understood why he must be her consort, not her lord and the lovely man did it. I adored this guy. And I felt the same way about Catriona. She was strong and independent and sensible. Never stupid. No false pride; she was perfectly willing to let Richard help her shoulder the burdens, if only after a bit of miscommunication.

These two people together as a couple were incredible, I really did believe they were in love and understood why. I liked how Richard was so crazy about Catriona and how he really needed her. And she was crazy about him right back. In fact, they each needed the other's love, they really weren't complete without it. They needed each other's trust to be happy, and I understand that.

This is yet another book without a suspense subplot, just like the previous one in the series, A Rake's Vow. There is a little thing about Catriona's neighbours harassing her a bit, but it was veeeery slight. The conflict that was front and centre was internal, just Richard and Catriona learning to live with each other.

I'm not usually fond of those seemingly obligatory appearances by all the other characters in the series, but in this case I really enjoyed myself when the Cynsters descended en masse on the Vale. I loved the sense of happiness that reigned while they were there, on the last third or so of the book. It really worked to show Catriona learning about family.

Finally, all the mystical mumbo-jumbo about the Lady, and all that... hmmm. I wasn't sure I'd like it, but I did. What was explained about the Lady's doctrines and philosophy made sense and I liked it, and I liked that Catriona really believed. It wasn't just lip service. I thought the paranormal element didn't overwhelm the story, but added to it and enhanced it.

In summary, one of the best books I've read this year. I hope this series keeps getting better, but I won't hold my breath, because it's hard to see how it could!

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