Avon Impulse, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-268586-1
Historical Romance, 2018
All Dressed in White is the second book in Charis Michaels’s The Brides of Belgravia series, but for the most part, the heroine’s friends here show up mostly to act as the heroine Tessa St Croix’s support network. Yes, sequel baits that actually help the main character instead of conveniently going MIA after they had married a bloke of their own – imagine that. There isn’t any overt intrusion by characters from sequels past or future, and hence, I think it’s a pretty decent standalone story.
Tessa is courted by the handsome and dreamy Joseph Chance, a shipping magnate who could use her dowry to find his guano business venture abroad, and they have a reciprocal attraction. When she wants a swift marriage, he’s thrilled because he thinks that she’s as eager as he is for them to become husband and wife. And then… she reveals after they have made it official that she’s carrying another man’s kid.
She once thought it was fun and daring to sneak away with a guy – I can’t blame her, as many romance heroines found happiness this way – but she didn’t really know how the game was played. Before she knew what was happening, he was having his way with her and then he was done. When she realized that she was pregnant, this POS basically told her she was a slut for putting out him and that was it, bye. So, while she does like Joseph, all her self-preservation instincts told her to keep quiet, get married, and pass the kid off as his. Alas, her guilt weighs so heavily on her that she can’t pretend anymore and has to tell him the truth. Unfortunately, given her timing, he can only conclude that she conveniently tells him the truth only after they have made their wedding official and hence, he is trapped. Seeing her happiness sink like a deflated balloon, Tessa makes things worse by trying to tell him that things aren’t that bad – he still has her dowry. He’s like, “Hello, you weren’t the only rich lady in town if I was that desperate!” and then he is gone.
About ten months later, he’s back in town to sort out some business affairs – having gone abroad to cement his business ventures all this while – only to realize that his wife has been meddling in his shipping operations. He has no choice but to seek her out, and learns that she’s lucky that her good friends take her in and offer her support, given that he has abandoned her without a thought and her parents subsequently disowned her. Our hero of the year spends the bulk of the story waffling about whether the heroine is worthy of his magnanimous affections, while she goes about demonstrating that she is indeed worthy of such a thing. These two then go about town tending to his business matters, talking to various people, and sorting out her family issues. While all this is nice, I’m quite bored.
Tessa actually has all the makings of an interesting heroine. You see, this is someone who sort of stumbles into the discovery that she has a knack of running a business, and she has been doing an unexpectedly great job keeping her husband’s business afloat and away from her furious father’s reprisal. Unfortunately, she is paired with a guy who comes off like a wishy-washy flake who is nowhere as smart as he thinks he is. His wife actually goes beyond the call of duty to haul his rear end out of trouble a number of times, but instead of showing some appreciation, he instead wrings his hands over how she still makes him horny but he isn’t certain whether he can take her back. Look, she lied to him, and he then dumped her for almost a year without caring whether she had anything to eat or a place to stay – I think they’re about equal when it comes to the amount of sins they hold against one another; he doesn’t have any high horse to get on and look down on everyone, and hence it irks me every time he goes into this mood.
On the whole, though, these two aren’t particularly annoying or stupid characters. The author actually does a good job with some of the quiet scenes here, and she has me believing that Tessa and Joseph have something genuine enough that they will be alright in the long run.
However, we have an interesting heroine and a relationship built on a flimsy foundation that is far from something I come across in a romance novel every day. So, why does the author stick these two in a story that develops in a way that is similar to way too many romance novels out there? Instead of interesting emotional dilemma about the baby and what not, the author opts to go put the heroine through the usual purity test instead. If Tessa has a knack for business, why not show me more of that? Let me see where she learns all these things from – this is one story which I wouldn’t mind if the romance is downplayed so that the heroine has more time to run a shipping empire – but no, she plays the second fiddle and the focus of the hero’s boring emotional wangst instead. Joseph comes off as a mediocre businessman and a flake, and hence, he is a duller character compared to Tessa and he brings her down to his level.
In the end, All Dressed in White is an alright read. There are no long-drawn stupid misunderstanding drama or communication breakdown issues, all of which is icing on the cake. Still, there are enough ingredients here for a far more interesting story than the one the author eventually chose to dish out instead, hence my disappointment.