A Rose in Winter
The enchanting, raven-haired daughter of the village mayor, Erienne Fleming is the fairest bloom in her English village. And of all who desire her, she would have only one: the dashing and witty young Yankee, Christopher Seton. But a marriage for lover is not to be, as Erienne is auctioned off to the highest bidder to help pay off her irresponsible father's debts. And in the end, it is the enigmatic Lord Saxton who purchases her hand - a tragic and secretive noble who hides his scars behind mask and cloak, and who only appears to her after nightfall.
Resigned to a solitary life in cold and rambling Saxton Hall, Erienne slowly learns the true nature of the stranger she calls "husband." A gentle and adoring soul, he treats his new wife with warmth and abiding tenderness. But though she valiantly longs to remain true to her elusive, mysterious spouse, Erienne feels herself irresistably drawn to Christopher Seton's passion, his fire, and his intrigues. And soon she will have to make a devestating choice; between her duty and her heart...
With the passing of legendary Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, I wanted to give her books a try. I remember reading something by her as a wee one, but for the life of me can't recall what it was. Browsing online, a friend and I were intrigued to discover the synopsis boasted a scarred, tragic figure as the possible hero. Swooning over the though of a Phantom-of-the-opera type hunk, I quickly nabbed this baby up at the local bookstore during our usual Tuesday night outing, and then sped through the book I was reading to start this one.
Plot-wise, it's refreshing. A young, maltreated woman has been kept under the bristled thumb of her drunk, nescient father and irresponsibly daft brother. Deep in debt to the man who shot his son during a card-cheating war, the father decides to use his daughter to settle the deal. He refuses to wed her to his enemy, but has no problem putting her up for a hideous auction.
Terrified and grief-stricken, Erienne sadly accepts her fate, only to find her new husband-to-be is a scarred figure who covers his face with a menacing, black mask. Terrified of the wealthy figure who slightly resembles a BDSM enthusiast, she cannot master the courage to be his wife in all ways, but slowly finds herself falling for his sweet, caring manner. It's hard to accept her significant other completely, however, when in the back of her mind there's always the image of another, one she mentally calls an enemy, but who her heart calls something else entirely.
This sort of conflict was a delight to absorb. Torn between two men - one she must remain with through legal obligation, another she should despise but cannot. Brave Mrs. Woodiwiss! With an interesting ensemble of clever characters, this page-turner is filled with one bizarre situation after another.
It's not hard to admire the heroine, as she comes from the worst type of family situation, yet keeps her head high and strong throughout it all. Her devotion to her hubby is touching, while her attraction to the forbidden fruit undeniable. She's thankfully not the sort where her dashing beauty is spoken of in poetry prose every other page. She IS beautiful (naturally), but this is handled with expert tact not to be, well, tacky from the writer.
Christopher Seton is adorably fun, with a witty sense of humor, stylish presence, sweet personality that shines when it should, while not being downplayed as a "girley-man" (Insert giggle here please) The tragic husband aroused pity in me, as well as more than compassion, for beneath the mask and ensemble he's an interesting sort that's enchanting to read about. Swamped with villains, from the family to the town enemies, the young heroines doesn't have much time to relax.
The book length is generous, and it does take a bit of time for the heroine to finally become married to her scarred Romeo. In fact, I began to wonder if he would show up at all, or if the back cover was a misprint. Plenty of time is taken to reveal characterization and beginning spark between Erienne and Christopher. Speeding up the beginning a smudge certainly wouldn't have hurt, and overall the pacing is quick enough. Plenty of punch in the pages as one disaster after another befalls our main character. In short, I never grew bored with pacing, but the book was a leisurely thrill ride rather than an adrenaline-rushed race. Woodiwiss' writing style was smooth and flowing, enriched with realistic and at times comical dialogue, spruced further along by characters that were anything but three-dimensional shadows.
Us readers of romance enjoy a steamy scene time and again; this book doesn't dissapoint. There's plenty of built-up sexual tension, of course, particularly in a carriage ride gone erotic. Lovemaking scenes didn't make me see fireworks, but still a delightfully lustrous spark. In scenes of 'trouble', suspense was adequately written with the what's-on-the-line situation being dire. Everything was handled in a realistic, happy go lucky fashion, nothing too far-fetched or silly. The only other troubling aspect is I guessed the ending and turned out right, but oh well, I can't blame Woodiwiss much for my psychic abilities.
Thankfully not a trivial book, A Rose in Winter left me grinning more than groaning. Characters embraced me from the start, emitting fierce passion. Pacing worked, although not as well as it could have, the writing style was painlessly addictive, and the end left the characters I had come to care about doing well. Another case of happily ever after, a fairy tale worth reading.