To Wed a Stranger, by Edith Layton

>> Monday, February 02, 2004

To Wed a Stranger was the first book I ever read by Edith Layton.

An arranged marriage for London's most desired lady?

Is it possible? The breathtaking Lady Annabelle has actually agreed to marry, sight unseen, a gentleman of her father's choosing -- the self-proclaimed "exceptionally average" Miles Croft. The ton is aghast! After scandalously toying with so many hearts, why is the exquisite Annabelle chaining herself to the new Viscount Pelham, a complete - albeit most attractive - stranger? Could it be that her own heart has been irreparably shattered, and she wants nothing more to do with romance?

Yet there is nothing "average" about their weding night! There is magic in Mile's touch, and the smoldering ecstasy it ignites threatens to consume them both. Dare Anabelle dream this is the one passionate and enduring love she ached for in secret, but never dreamed she'd be worthy of? Might this tender, mysterious lover truly be the scarlet lady's redemption - and could she be Miles's as well?
To Wed a Stranger was mostly really good, but I'm afraid it derailed a bit in the last part. A B.

I just loved the idea of this book, and the execution was well done, too. I haven't read the books that come before this one, but there's enough here to understand that Annabelle was quite the little bitch in those, the Evil Other Woman. Good for Edith Layton for feeling that such a character deserves to be a heroine in her own book, and without completely losing her edge.

The blurb I quoted above doesn't give even a hint about it, but this book wasn't only about a run-of-the-mill marriage of convenience between strangers. It's also an exploration of what happens when a woman who's been made to feel that the only thing of value that she has are her looks, loses them. What happens is that Annabelle becomes very ill during her honeymoon, and she ends up having her hair cut off, her skin scarred by blistering and bleeding and cupping, and losing way too much weight.

So what happens now that she's a shadow of the beautiful woman she once was? How does Miles react to this, being that her looks were a big reason why he decided to marry her, a stranger? I liked where the author takes these questions. Annabelle really does freak out when she sees herself in a mirror, and it's very hard for her to accept that even though she'll probably regain her looks, she's plain now. And Miles has a more realistic reaction than the one I was expecting. I was expecting him to want her even though she looked as she did, but no, he found himself feeling distaste at the way she felt like a child in his arms.

If the author had concentrated on this conflict, this book might have been a keeper, but unfortunately the last part was crammed with extraneous conflict, and I really hated it. I ended up skimming the last 40 pages or so, and it almost ruined the entire book for me.

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