Wed Him Before You Bed Him by Sabrina Jeffries
Charlotte Page Harris is the successful headmistress of Mrs. Harris's School for Young Ladies which she has spent the last 14 years overseeing to success. A large part of her success has been due to her "Cousin Michael" whom she has never met but has generously rented her the property her school sits on at a generous price. Out of the blue cousin Michael ceases writing to Charlotte just as her next door neighbor is threatening to sell his own property to man who plans to open a racetrack- something that would spell disaster for the school. On top of these problems an old flame has re-entered her life; David Masters, the young man Charlotte had briefly entertained dreams of marriage with before a disastrous mistake left her married to the wrong man and him humiliated. After a brief stay at his family's estate Charlotte and David entered an "agreement" that they would possibly marry but when Charlotte sees David's brother Giles' engaging in sexual activity with a maid she assumes it is David and writes him a scathing letter breaking their agreement off and the letter is accidentally published in the newspaper. Charlotte weds Captain James Harris and David marries Sarah Linley for her money and six months before our story starts she commits suicide because of her gambling debts.
We quickly learn that David is in fact Cousin Michael and he had entered into the property arrangement with Charlotte in order to exact revenge; he wanted her to start her successful school and then be run out by the real property owner Mr. Pritchard. However, 18 years have softened his heart and as time runs out he realizes that he cannot betray the lovely widow and so comes back to try to make things right without revealing his activity in the matter. He fairly quickly manages to convince her that she has been forgiven and to accept his offer to help her work out the problems facing her school. As they spend more and more time together they both begin to realize that the feelings they thought long gone are quickly resurfacing. Both are willing to admit to their feelings and Michael asks her to marry him and although, Charlotte says no as she is scared of giving up her school, David is convinced he can change her mind. Things don't go precisely as planned though when someone anonymously sends word to the magistrate's office that David's wife's suicide note was forged. David is of course the prime suspect and is hesitant about exposing his alibi for the night as he was taking care of "cousin Michael" business. But when the Bow Street runner refuses to quit and then latches on to Charlotte as a possible suspect because of her obvious relationship with David, they are both forced to confront some harsh truths about themselves in order for them to move on together.
I am so glad that Jeffries finally got around to writing about Charlotte Harris and "Cousin Michael," two characters that have been staples of the entire "School for Heiresses" series and whom I have been looking forward to reading about for ages. So right off the bat I am inclined to like our two characters and luckily Jeffries doesn't turn Charlotte into the opposite of the strong, confident, and, yes, controlling woman I had grown to adore. Granted cousin Michael's reveal is a little disconcerting but I guess it would not have made much senseif it had been a random benevolent person who took a liking to a girls school. A big chunk of this book was dedicated to the flashback where the two of them meet as youngsters and bein to fall in love before they are torn apart. I liked the flashback and seeing a young Charlotte, and the scene where the two meet is especially memorable as David decides to act drunk to turn Charlotte off, before he realizes that she's not the stuck-up ugly prig he had been expecting. The flashback also provides the reader with quite a lovely bit of angst and of course we are confronted with a woman who fears that a man she has recently come to love is having an affair with the maid. I would have liked to have been given a scene where Charlotte discovers it was not David, but we are only told of how the reveal was made and Jeffries does a great job explaining the different emotions Charlotte goes through regarding David throughout the entire story.
I am torn about whether I liked the Bow Street runner character- it was nice to have a character who didn't bow and scrape everytime it was revealed there was a peer in the room and a man of the law who wasn't willing to just let the ton sort out their own problems. However, it was also rather annoying having a character who kind of seemed bent on angering the peerage, for no real reason. There was a scene, where certain secrets are revealed, and I could not quite figure out why it was necessary for him to ensure that Charlotte was present at it. I think Jeffries did a great job of giving the reader just enough information about the past, Charlotte's marriage and David and Charlotte's joint past, to keep the reader informed and interested, without making us bored amongst unecessary information. The sex in this book was quite interested and one scene in particular was simply superb: Charlotte accussed David of using sex to control her (which is something that nearly all romance heroes do) and so he lets her control the sex and it is simultaneously HOT, romantic, and literally awesome and I LOVED it. It showed how much he cared for her and how he really was willing to do everything he could to prove he loved her. Also- he referred to masturbation as "boxing the jesuit" and she tells him that he's naughty- it was brilliant and hilarious.
Rating: This long-awaited for novel did not disappoint. Great characters, great suicide/ murder plot, and some great steam. Not quite a five though.