Audio Review: The Bride Says “No” by Cathy Maxwell, narrated by Mary-Jane Wells

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Lady Aileen never thought she’d be in this position—falling in love with her sister’s betrothed! Of course, her sister did run away rather than marry him, and he doesn’t seem to be all that interested in her sister either, but even so, such a match is impossible…isn’t it?

Aileen is certain she must turn away from the man she loves in order to protect her sister’s reputation. However, he’s not one to give up without a fight, and now that he’s met a woman he wants to marry, nothing on earth could convince him to let Aileen go

Publisher and Release Date: Harper Audio, January 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency Scotland
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

This is a enjoyable dual romance about two sisters, Aileen and Tara Davidson, daughters of an ill-mannered Scottish earl, and their rough roads to romance. This is actually more Aileen’s story than Tara’s but Maxwell gives both sisters equal screen time in the course of the story, so that I wasn’t quite sure whose story it was until almost the very end. Both storylines are evenly told, well-developed, and equally intriguing.

Several years earlier, eldest sister Aileen traveled to London to seek a husband but instead, encountered and endured heartbreak in an abusive marriage that ended in a scandalous divorce when she was accused of adultery. For three years, she has lived quietly back at home on the family estate in Scotland with a thoroughly ruined reputation as Lady Aileen Hamilton. She has become somewhat content with her situation but rumors continue to swirl around Aileen; did she really cuckold her husband? Only she knows the truth and she holds her cards close to her chest.

Now it is Tara’s turn to make a match, but she runs away from London as well as from her engagement to Blake Stephens (right before the wedding, no less!) back home to declare her love for her father’s handsome horse master, Ruary Jamison…only to find him betrothed to another. Tara broke Ruary’s heart when she left for London two years before, but now she realizes her mistake and hopes to marry him.

Blake Stephens is the proud and arrogant eldest son of a duke, but he’s also illegitimate and determined not to be made a laughingstock by the ton he so despises due to Tara’s last-minute caper. He has worked very hard for his elusive father’s acknowledgement and the ton’s along with it. Tara is one of the most beautiful and eligible debutantes in London – and it doesn’t hurt that she’s also being pursued by his brother, Arthur, the legitimate heir; she’s a prize catch. Blake pursues Tara to Scotland with her father, the disagreeable Earl of Tay, and the betrothal is hastily renewed to avoid scandal.

But as soon as Blake meets Aileen, he battles a growing attraction to her. He also suspects Tara’s tendre for the horse master, a circumstance he finds humiliating. I enjoy how Aileen and Blake get to know each other. The way he helps coax her beloved and troubled mare to eat and later, his profound gesture of love, is especially endearing. Blake wishes to know all about Aileen and make her happy and she, in turn, is fascinated and charmed by him even as she knows it’s wrong to express feelings for her sister’s betrothed. I admit to a bit of shock when they begin their love affair, however; both simply threw caution and propriety to the wind.

Tara is painted as an extremely spoiled and immature debutante who is used to getting her own way. She is often annoying and even cold at times but, as women were often regarded as second-best by men during this time in history, I could empathize with her plight to find happiness at (almost) any cost. It is interesting to see her have to fight for Ruary’s love when she is used to getting her own way.

The ladies’ father, the Earl of Tay, is an extremely rude, boorish aristocrat. He only wants the money Tara’s marriage will bring to his household so he can continue his gambling and whoring lifestyle, flitting from one widow’s bed to another. That he would do such a thing at the expense of his own daughters’ happiness is appalling but, unfortunately, common as well.

There is a nice sense of time and place in this story that comes to life when read aloud, with a humorous description of how Blake’s patient valet dresses him nattily for church in the latest extravagant London fashions, the quiet country life in a quaint Scottish village and the hierarchy and everyday life in a laird’s stables as well as detailed descriptions about horsemanship and the terrible vulnerability of women as they are manipulated by men.

Cathy Maxwell is a new-to-me author who has written quite a few historical romances and I listened to this in MP3 audio format. This story is nicely narrated with a lilting Scottish brogue by actress Mary Jane Wells. I actually found myself smiling while listening to her clear and lovely voice, which is very easy on the ears. Her nuances and inflections are appropriate and pleasant. Her higher pitched and often anguished voice for Tara is spot-on as is her slurred, drunken portrayal of the wastrel, Lord Tay. Aileen comes across as the level-headed and strong woman she is while the lower, deeper, and, at times, austere voice for Blake is very seductive.

There is a wonderful secondary character in cousin Sabrina, and one I’d love to read more about in a future story. Her good sense, wisdom, patience, and kindness to both Tara and Aileen is lovely to read. And Jane, Ruary’s fiancée, is another sympathetic and interesting character.

This is the first book in the Brides of Wishmore series and a delightful (and unexpected) cliffhanger ending will definitely find me reading The Bride Says Maybe.

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