St Martin’s Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-99522-9
Historical Romance, 2004
To promote Celeste Bradley and Leslie LaFoy, St Martin’s Press decides to reuse two stories from its previous (many) anthologies and repackage them with brand new contributions by the authors they hope will be the new superstars of the genre. Christina Dodd’s story first appeared in the 1995 anthology One Night with a Rogue while Stephanie Laurens’s story first appeared in the 1998 anthology Rough around the Edges. Unfortunately, this anthology ends up advertizing Ms Bradley and Ms LaFoy as the authors to love if one loves the bland and the blah from Stephanie Laurens and Christina Dodd.
Christina Dodd’s The Lady and the Tiger has seamstress Laura Haver banging her head against the wall that is Keefe Leighton to find out who murdered her brother. Needless to say, she believes some pirating scum called the Seamaster is responsible or at least holds some clues to the mystery, but guess who the Seamaster is really is.
Maybe my brain is not as sharp as it used to be, but I get confused for a while over who the hero actually is. I’m not even sure of his name until much later!
Even more exasperating is the hero’s ultra-arrogant nature. Laura practically bangs her head again and again against the wall just to learn an itty-bitty detail that Keefe stingily shares with her. This too comes at the cost of her being pawed or humiliated in his presence. I get fed up when it is clear that the author will not let Laura stand up to the mule that is Keefe. This is one marriage that will have Laura either getting an alcoholic problem in the future or losing her voice from screaming at her husband who clearly doesn’t listen or even want to.
Stephanie Laurens is next with her entry Melting Ice, and oh dear, the heroine in this one probably wouldn’t pass her SAT either. Fiona Winton-Ryder decides to drop by her old friend’s house to spend the night (it’s a long trip), but she is unaware of the signs that her very married friend is one of those happy free-loving swinger half of a couple who is planning a major orgy of a party there. Never mind, our hero Dyan St Laurent Dare, the Duke of Darke (hahahahahahahahahaha, what a delightful tongue-twister of a name!), who is in need of a wife, is there to protect her from the sins of orgasms. What better way than to keep an innocent innocent from the orgy next room by playing with her money box in the room next to where the party is taking place?
The things they do and say to justify hormones’ siren call, I tell you.
(Oh, and Dyan insists that good rakes like he never takes part in decadent orgies like the one going on in the next room. Of course.)
This one is pretty fun, although it’s a patchwork of every tired plot element in the Regency romance subgenre. And yes, he proposes, she says no and no. Thankfully, the story ends after the second no from her.
In Wedding Knight, Celeste Bradley has Kitty Trapp, the hellion twin sister, taking the place of the shy Bitty Trapp when Bitty can’t bring herself to walk down the aisle with prim and proper Alfred Knight. Bitty goes missing however – probably to join a stripper revue where her name will fit right in, I guess – and Kitty must now keep Alfred away while she tries to sort out the mess without tarnishing the family name. She decides to mould Alfred into a nice guy her sister will be fond of while Alfred tries to mould Kitty into a biddable Bitty (I know, I know). Alfred is so disagreeable at first that I suspect that poor Bitty must be jammed up his nether orifice.
This is one story where a sensible discussion would have made everyone’s life easier but Kitty only proves that the more the author calls her heroine headstrong and strong-willed, the more lead-brained the heroine would turn out to be. And then the author quickly turns Alfred into a sensitive new-age gentleman just in time for the happy ending. Since my birthday isn’t yesterday, I don’t buy this sudden transformation one bit. Kitty, Bitty, Alfie, and their itty brains – ugh, just go away.
Finally, Leslie LaFoy delivers The Proposition. This one has a rakehell, Rennick St James, trying to convince the woman he has always loved, Julia Hamilton, to marry him instead of a stuffy banker named Lawrence Morris. Lawrence is conveniently away while all this intrigue is happening.
Julia loves Rennick too, but she has never acted on her feelings as she was then married to an older man plot device. The husband is now dead but Rennick was away, exiled for getting involved in a duel with another woman’s husband. So now she’s marrying Lawrence, again out of convenience, when Rennick steps in and asks her to run away with him. This is one story that relies on the heroine playing hard to get and very few authors can convince me that a heroine refusing to see a good thing until the end is a smart heroine. Leslie LaFoy isn’t one of those few authors, at least not now, not with The Proposition. This one has a charming if very stereotypical hero but it also has an annoyingly obtuse heroine. It’s the best story of the four, but that’s not really saying much.
Many anthologies out there just sort of exist without giving readers any good reason to plunk down money for them, or if the readers insist on doing so, make these readers wish that they have known better when they are done with the anthology. My Scandalous Bride is one of these anthologies.