The Bridal Quest by Candace Camp
Another installment of the Matchmaker series, this book features Lady Francesca Haughston who has been "hired" by her long-time friend Lord Rochford, to find a wife for his cousin Gideon Lord Radbourne. Gideon is the long lost heir, who has only recently been returned to his family after being kidnapped with his mother while still a child. Living in the slums of London has left Gideon without the social graces necessary to attract a bride his family would find suitable. Enter Lady Irene Wyngate who lives with her brother and his horrible wife, as well as her mother because her father failed to provide well for her or his widow. Irene has of course sworn never to marry because of the example her father set for her, and this is certainly a big sacrifice given the way her sister-in-law treats her.
Francesca, discerning the attraction between Gideon and Irene, enlists Irene's help in getting Gideon ready for the house party being thrown to introduce him to suitable brides. The cast also includes Gideon's flighty grandmother Pansy, his boisterous great-aunt, and his obnoxious step-mother Teresa. Our hero and heroine are thrown together constantly and to nobody's surprise Irene's resistance to marriage begins to weaken, much to the chagrin of Teresa who hopes her son Timothy will eventually inherit the Earldom. Cleverly enmeshed in the story is the mystery behind the supposed kidnapping of Gideon and his mother and the reader will no doubt be surprised by the outcome.
Despite my almost constant assertions that I dislike murder/ mystery side-plots Candace Camp does an amazing job on them. The mystery is a real PART of the story and the story could not be complete without it. This is a far cry from the way most romance mystery's are written. I also enjoy how neither of our protagonists are ever excessively mean, rude, or nasty to the other. Very near the start they realize they like one another and although they argue, there is none of the hatred that seems to appear in so many novels. The periphery characters are all well written and developed, and Camp seems particularly agile at written the nasty woman/en found in all romance novels. Of particular interest were Lady Haughston and Lord Rochford, who will no doubt soon be featured in a novel of their own and I will just say that the buildup has been done perfectly.
The side plot also serves to distract the reader from the fact the hero and heroine, despite many kissing scenes, only make love once. ONCE! And that is very near the end of the book and is a far cry from the best I've read. Much of the book seemed to be filler, and while I've found this is very common in romance novels, I noticed it quite a bit in this one for some reason. Perhaps it is not as well written or perhaps I was just not as interested in the two main protagonists as I usually am. Irene's constant assertion that she will never marry got old quickly and seemed to unnecessarily prolong the book. And it is of course, always a problem, when all through the book I can't help but wonder when the Haughston-Rochford novel will be coming out.
The book was satisfying and intriguing, but I was never able to fully connect with these characters for some reason. However, I can't give it less than 3 because of the side plot and periphery characters.