Gayle Callen has hit the jackpot in this third book of her trilogy, the story of Sir Edmond Blackwell and His Bride, Gwyneth Hall. The stand-alone story set in 1591 England is engaging, sensual and a joy to read.
Sir Edmund was introduced in the book His Scandal, as he seduced Elizabeth Langston and was forced to marry. This story starts as Elizabeth has died. She took poison in an effort to make her skin paler and thereby pleasing to the male species. She miscalculated the amount, with lethal results. Her parents are devastated and blame Edmund. He now has control of her property and they vow to get it back. They manipulate Edmund into agreeing to a challenge - he must marry a cousin of Elizabeth’s and gain a male heir. If no male heir is produced, the property reverts to the Earl, Elizabeth’s father. Their true motivation for wanting the property is to get the rights to the mining ore. Towards this effort, they hire someone to wreck havoc and to keep Edmund from gaining the trust of his servants and village through the telling of lies.
Sir Edmund is a fascinating character. In efforts to keep Elizabeth in finery, he hired himself out as a mercenary, since fighting is what he knows. In the last campaign, and at the same time Elizabeth was killing herself, he was injured in the leg, leaving him with a stiff leg and a limp. He is angry over that and over Elizabeth’s ultimate selfishness and he vows to outwit the Langstons. He feels he failed in his first marriage and has no hope of success in his second.
Gwyneth is a poor relation to the Langstons. Her father is a commoner, having worked in trade for years, including the current bakery venture they are involved with. Gwyn’s mother is sister to Lady Langston. Gwyneth served as a lady’s maid for Elizabeth in her final months and was sworn to secrecy about the truth of Elizabeth’s demise. She agrees to marry Edmund in hopes that it will provide some stability to her family, as her father is in ill health.
Gwyn and Edmund have much to learn about each other, the least of which is how to trust and love. The story centers on Edmund’s efforts to rebuild the land, Gwyn’s efforts to win his love and make a home and their efforts together to counter the plots the Langstons employ to destroy their hard work.
Gwyn is a smart, courageous young woman, determined to win Edmund’s love and prove to the villagers that he is a worthy lord of the manor. She is saucy when she needs to be, seductive when she determines to be and full of life. When she is filled with doubts, she thinks things through and ultimately confides in Edmund. She treats him as she hopes he treats her and he responds.
Edmund starts off as a moody, distrustful man and emerges as a compassionate, sensitive and stable man as Gwyn helps him discover his ability to love. He acts intelligently, just a little on the dense male side at times. Once he lets his guard down, he is manly enough to recognize he loves Gwyn and he is not diminished by that love. There is one endearing scene when Edmund has had a little too much to drink and he tells Gwyn that Elizabeth rejected him in her bed, stating he hurt her. His biggest fear is hurting Gwyn. I was ready to love Edmund at that point too.
The servants and villagers are well written and realistic. Edmund’s vassal and friend, Geoff, is the most developed of the characters and he plays a fairly conventional role of helping Edmund with his conscience while making him jealous through his friendship with Gwyn. Is there another book in the series with him as the hero?
Although set in the late 1500’s, there is none of the political intrigue one usually sees. In fact, there is little to suggest the time period, except that Castle Wintering is a castle and is generally run-down. The story of the mining ore is never exploited, leading me to wonder why it is even in the tale. These are not major distractions.
An engaging writing style, a lively heroine and a hero who blossoms as his life fills with love are the ingredients to making His Bride an engaging, delightful tale.