A good historical romance needs to carefully balance the historical period information with a solid romance. Too much historical information can detract from the love story. Not enough period detail can make the story seem incomplete. The Maiden Bride has a strong hero trying to resist an equally strong heroine who wants him, but the story lacked enough of the rich details needed to make it a compelling historical romance.
Lady Eleanor Bayard, the widow of the late Lord of Faulkhurst, arrives at the deserted Faulkhurst estate with no money and three abandoned youths who are survivors of the plague. King Edward had given her the estate as her widow's due, but no funds. She had been a proxy bride and never met her knight husband before she heard that he was dead. What she had heard about her husband was not flattering at all.
The first night at the fallen-down estate, Eleanor discovers a forbidding man who tries to get her to leave. She insists that she is the lady of the estate and she plans to rebuild it. He is scornful since there are no people left to do the work. Eleanor claims that her prayers for help will bring people very soon. She asks him to be her steward since he seems to know something about the place.
The man says his name is Nicholas Langridge, but he is really her husband William Bayard. After spending years as a knight pillaging towns and churches for King Edward, he sickened of the blood and destruction and felt he had to make amends. These amends included rescuing his bastard son from the streets and coming back to Faulkhurst to try and help his people when the plague strikes. He makes many bargains with God, but nothing stops most of his people dying, including the son he came to love.
When Eleanor arrives, he is close to completing the final task he as promised God before he goes into a monastery to continue paying for his sins. Nicholas/William had heard that Eleanorís whole family had died from the plague and now sees her arrival as a temptation he must fight to do God's will. He decides that he must help her as her steward, but not let her know who he is because he still plans to leave.
The main body of the story is the growing attraction and strong sexual tension between the two. Since the marriage was never consummated, Eleanor begins to worry that she could lose the estate. She decides that Nicholas would be the best person to deflower her and then she decides he would be to best person to marry her. She tempts him as often as she can. He resists, but slips further and further each time. I liked Eleanor's
seductions. She came across as a warm, loving woman, not a wanton.
The scarcity of details kept the story from really involving me. For example, the reason for the proxy marriage is very vague. It has something to do with one of his knightly conquests, but the details aren't there. King Edward's political manipulations are involved in both characters' lives, but everything is hinted at, not explained. There are some possibly intriguing secondary characters in the book, but only Pippa, one of Eleanor's abandoned children, gets much fleshing out.
The resolution of Nicholas/William's dilemma and Eleanor's discovery of his secret come so late in the book that the ending is very abrupt. I didn't get to savor the happy part of the book as I like to. While I cared for both of the characters and their interactions, more background and substance was needed to fully enjoy this story.
--B. Kathy Leitle