The Blushing Bride

The Dreammaker

The Heart of a Hero

The Last Bride in Texas

The Nanny

 
Married by Midnight by Judith Stacy
(Harl. Historical #622, $5.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29222-8
****
Married by Midnight features an old standard in the plot department: man makes a bet that he can get married, actually does it, his starry-eyed bride finds out the truth, and he must spend the rest of the book trying to win her back. What makes this book work so well are the dynamite characterizations.

Amanda Van Patton is tired of being a bridesmaid at everyone’s wedding. This is the third one in three months, and all the endless burbling about china patterns and trousseaus sets her teeth on edge. Thankfully, this wedding of her old friend Cecilia Hastings should be the last, and Amanda can leave Los Angeles behind and head back to San Francisco and her beloved aunt and uncle. There she can get to work on her life’s dream: founding a shelter for abandoned women and their children.

Meanwhile, she must stay out of the way of Nick Hastings, Cecilia’s brother. Years earlier, Nick unknowingly broke Amanda’s young heart when he kissed her and then treated it as nothing. Amanda found she couldn’t even feign an interest in other men as she grew up, and now her sense of devastation is tinged with embarrassment. So she decides to avoid Nick completely.

Nick has been pondering settling down, and when his friend Ethan proposes an outrageous wager, he finds himself agreeing. The first one to be married gets a case of the finest whisky, and the deadline is midnight, thirty days hence. He needs a wife anyway. Might as well get busy finding one.

Nick and Amanda meet again when Amanda shows up in her bathrobe to calm Cecilia’s pre-wedding jitters. Nick can hardly believe this is the same young girl he kissed years ago, and never quite forgot. She’s lovely, smart, and has a great sense of humor. Plus, she has a head for things other than clothes and parties. Nick is immensely impressed, and before he knows it, he’s fallen in love with Amanda. As for Amanda, she is drawn into Nick’s spell, and they end up “married by midnight”.

All turns to ashes, of course, when Amanda finds out about the wager. She’ll stay married to Nick, but it will be a formal marriage. In name only. She’ll go her way, and he can go his. Now love-struck Nick needs to win her back. And all this fuss over a bet he barely remembers making.

Amanda is, quite simply, a delight. Sassy, intelligent, and focused on her project, she gives Nick a great run for his money. Nick for his part, is equally determined to show Amanda what she’s missing, in his bed and in his life. When the opportunity presents itself to blackmail Amanda into consummating their relationship, Nick doesn’t hesitate, and he does so with glee. Soon Amanda knows what she’s been missing. Now, how to repair their relationship and start over for real?

One of the best aspects of Nick’s character was that he truly wants Amanda as a life partner, not just an ornamental spouse. For 1896, this might have been rather daring, but here it felt absolutely right. Amanda comes to lean on Nick for his smarts, his money, and his knack for figuring out tough problems. In return, she pulls off a feat that Nick can’t accomplish on his own, and in doing so, helps him realize a dream. Great stuff!

There were several plot points that fell flat and kept me from enjoying this novel unconditionally. The secondary character of Aunt Winifred, who goes around trying to interpret everyone’s dreams, is flat-out obnoxious. And much is made of how close Amanda is to her aunt and uncle, who took her in when her own widowed mother could no longer care for her - and gave her the idea for a women’s shelter. Yet Amanda marries Nick in a hasty ceremony and never even considers them. It jarred.

But Married by Midnight shows how a standard plot can be lifted to the level of delightful in the hands of a talented author. It’s a lively, spirited romance between two people who are perfect for each other. Judith Stacy is one author worth seeking out.

--Cathy Sova


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