The Bargain Bride by Barbara Metzger
Thirteen years ago, Kendell Westmoreland was the second son of a viscount and his father engaged him to Persephone Goldwaite, a banker's daughter, in exchange for a large dowry paid up front. Penny spent the majority of those years infatuated with her handsome fiance, even as he broke her heart by returning home from the army and spending the next four years sleeping his way through the widows of London. When Penny's father declares that enough is enough West, who has inherited the title of Viscount Westfield with the death of his father and older brother, rushes off to York to try to convince Penny to call off the wedding. He is expecting the scrawny and homely teenager he'd last seen and is unprepared for the vivacious and beautiful young woman who greets him with hostility, agrees to cancellation of their wedding, and then punches him in the face on the way out. But Penny's father refuses to allow the wedding to be cancelled as he needs Penny to marry well so she can help him get his stepdaughters out of the house and married. So Penny and West decide to make the best of things and get married.
Married life is not what either of them expected as right away Penny's father tries to undercut their authority by hiring staff and having his wife decorate their house with her castoffs. Penny initially wants to hold of marital relations until they get to know each other better, and while this works for a few weeks, the two have a very difficult time keeping their hands off of each other. It isn't long before the two are married in more then name only and as they get closer to each other penny begins to fear that West will leave her when he grows bored with her and West fears that Penny will hold all the power in the relationship since he is infatuated with her body and she has access to far more money than him. When West is forced to leave after a stable on his horse farm is burned down, Penny's stepbrother, Nigel, decides to blackmail her by threatening to "reveal" that he and Penny are engaged in an affair. When things don't go precisely as Nigel plans he knows he has to get the money somehow and eventually comes up with a scheme to kidnap and ransom Penny. West goes racing off to save his wife, the woman he avoided for thirteen years who has suddenly become everything to him.
This book has somewhat of a personality crisis as there are instances when words or phrases are used that really throw me out of regency England, such as when West's brother refers to him as "bro." Normally this doesn't bother me, and in fact I rarely notice, but I figured "bro" was kind of a big one. I also had a problem with the way the non- titled wealthy are portrayed. Penny argues that people shouldn't judge her family because of their new wealth and then Metzger goes and has Penny's father, stepmother, and stepbrother literally portray all the negative stereotypes possible among the nouveau riche. However, this book does contain an almost overwhelming talk of money, and while it was not exactly interesting, it certainly was more palatable then no discussion at all. Despite the immense attraction these two felt, the sex scene is brief, not fleshed out at all, and very lacking in steam. The reader is told that they have sex in every room in the house, break several pieces of furniture, and go at it for over 24 hours straight, but we really don't get to read about it all.
Penny was an interesting character and there were times when she really seemed like a fleshed out heroine, but sometimes she seemed more like a caricature. Her emotions and feelings surrounding her relationship with West were very well written, very realistic, and interesting to read about. Her fear of trusting West were well founded, and she reacts exactly as I would expect a woman whose fiance/ husband had abandoned her for thirteen years would act. However she is a "good" heroine and we know this because she mentions several time that she likes to work with, volunteer for, and donate money to those less fortunate. West is not quite as complex as Penny, and not quite as likable either, although by the end he does win over for being so obviously in love with Penny and is willing to put his feelings, and his life on the line for her. The side characters in the novel were sometimes the most fun, from Penny's horrific stepmother, the penny-pinching father, to the blind artist grandfather who lives with his VERY close friend Marcel (who enjoys dressing up in Native American costumes). The kidnap plot was quick, mildly interesting, and led to a beautiful little family reunion at the end.
Rating: This book was really fairly average. The characters were likable enough and I enjoyed the plot and the small little side characters were quite a bit of fun. Nothing incredibly special though.