Wicked Wedding of Miss Ellie Vyne by Jayne Fresina

Wicked Wedding will be published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on January 1, 2013. I received an advanced reader copy from the publisher.

Summary from Fresina’s website:

By night Ellie Vyne fleeces unsuspecting aristocrats as the dashing Count de Bonneville. By day she avoids her sisters’ matchmaking attempts and dreams up inventive insults to hurl at her childhood nemesis, the arrogant, far-too-handsome-for-his-own-good, James Hartley.

James finally has a lead on the villainous, thieving Count, tracking him to a shady inn. He bursts in on none other than “that Vyne woman”…in a shocking state of dishabille. Convinced she is the Count’s mistress, James decides it’s best to keep your enemies close. Very close. In fact, seducing Ellie will be the perfect bait…

Ellie and James have known each other for seventeen years and they have disliked each other for nearly as long. In fact, they have been sworn enemies for most of that time, ever “since her disreputable stepuncle ran off with James’s mother, for an adulteress affair that caused the scandal of the century.” But their personal war began “when she found James Hartley, one lazy, summer afternoon, napping under an oak tree, apparently having emptied a jug of cider and eaten the contents of a small picnic basket all to himself.” Ellie thought, “what else could she do but draw on his face? She just happened to have an ink pot in hand. After she’d run back to her aunt’s cottage to fetch it.” She was ten at the time, him twenty. He never forgave her.

Ellie is something of an outlier. “Her mother was a shipwrecked, pregnant widow when she married Admiral Vyne, and nothing was known about Ellie’s decease father…. Then along came Charlotte and Amelia, her mother’s children by the admiral, and Ellie had a new family. After her mother died, they were all reliant on Ellie to look after them.” And the way in which Ellie is now taking care of them is to dress as the Count de Bonneville and to rob the rich from under their noses.

James is not without his own story. Fresina writes: “Two years ago, he’d made a mortal fool of himself by proposing marriage, for the second time, to Miss Sophia Valentine, who finally rejected him in favor of another man. A humble farmer.” In addition, “a decade ago, he’d lost an illegitimate son…. Ten years later when Sophia threw him over forever, she accused him of having deserted the pregnant housemaid, of deliberately leaving her and her newborn son to die alone. James had been shocked, horrified.” Sophia also happens to be Ellie’s best friend.

There is a wonderful first chapter to this book that draws you in and hooks you. We get a tender moment between these two characters. Ellie is in disguise and James is drunk. She is honest, he is smitten, and you see how they could love each other.

Then Fresina shoots us forward six months in time. And Ellie, dressed as the Count, robs James’ mistress of jewels belonging to James. When he chases her down, he finds her alone in a room at an inn, half dressed in the Count’s clothing, sleeping in a rumbled bed. He assumes that Ellie is sleeping with Count and is defending the Count out of love or lust or some such thing. James decides to stick closely to Ellie and coax the whereabouts of the Count out of her or hope she leads James to him. At the same time, he is searching constantly for the intriguing disguised woman he met six months earlier.

Very quickly, James decides to propose to Ellie, which she just as quickly rejects.

And then a series of things happen:

1) Someone else shows up around town saying they are the Count de Bonneville (and who that is is quite a surprise). The Count blackmails James for one thousand pounds in order to keep the Count quiet about Ellie’s thievery and also for compensation since James plans to take Ellie from the Count. You can imagine how Ellie feels when she learns of this deal.

2) Ellie agrees to marry James if, and only if, after five nights together they conceive a child. She fears that if she agrees to a marriage of convenience (which is what James has said he wants), he will not go to bed with her and she will never have a child. Of course, James happily agrees as he gets five nights with Ellie as well as her promise of returning his jewels that the Count has stolen from him.

3) A girl, Lady Mercy, fancies herself in love with James and somehow tags a long for most of the story.

4) An unfortunate incident involving Lady Mercy terrible reaction to James’ announcing his engagement to Ellie and a decorative suit of armor leads to James getting knocked over the head. He then pretends to have amnesia and his valet, in a moment of mocking and genius, tells him his name is Smallwick. Long after Ellie discovers James’ condition is fake, she continues to call him by the unfortunate nickname.

5) James leads a relentless campaign to win over Ellie’s heart and to get her to commit to him. And so there is a whole lot of falling in love., ome hi jinx, and plenty of hot love scenes.

As I was reading this book, I realized that there was a lot going on. And yet, I was never confused. I knew who everyone was and why they were there. It is quite the narrative juggling act but Fresina does it well.

I so thoroughly enjoyed reading every single word of this book. Watching these two characters, who start from a place of deep animosity, become lovers and friends is just a damn good time.

I’ll end this review by quoting Fresina, here showcasing Ellie’s wit. At one point Ellie’s married sister Charlotte is giving her advice on how to snag a husband:

“Soften your tone of voice, and always let the gentleman know you’re listening avidly to anything he says.”

“I see now where I went wrong all these years.” She could honestly say she rarely listened to any man for more than a minute. Frequently far less than that.

High five, Ellie.

I give The Wicked Wedding of Miss Ellie Vyne 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Pre-order it: Amazon.

I want to quickly talk about two other books whose main premise is that the male and female protagonists hate each other in the beginning.

First, Sarah Mayberry’s excellent must-read, Her Best Worst Mistake (click link to go see HOT cover which should, all by itself, sell this book). Published May 5, 2012 by small cow productions.

Violet Sutcliffe is no fan of Martin St. Clair, her best friend’s fiance. For years they have hated each other: he sees her as too much of a loose cannon, she believes him to be too stuffy. He thinks she interferes in his relationship with Elizabeth, she thinks he isn’t good enough for her friend. And then Elizabeth leaves Martin and runs away to Australia. Violet is left to deal with a grieving and angry Martin, who thinks Violet has encouraged Elizabeth to desert him and their relationship.

It takes almost no time at all for their hate to melt into lust. And they find they cannot stay away from one another. Worse than that, that they like each other, eventually love each other.

The worst part of the book is Violet’s crippling fear that Elizabeth will be angry with her. It continues to the point where after many, many months of dating Martin, she still hasn’t told Elizabeth (who, herself, has not returned from Australia because she met the love of her life there and chose to stay).

This book is so incredibly hot, the chemistry between the characters written to perfection. You cannot stop reading it once you start. At least, that was my experience as I read deep into the night even knowing that I was going to pay for it with a serious lack of sleep. It was well worth it.

I give Her Best Worst Mistake 4 out of 5 stars.

Purchase It: Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo, Nook, Diesel Ebooks, AllRomance ebooks

Last, but in no way least, is Sherry Thomas’ excellent Tempting the Bride. Published on October 2, 2012 by Berkeley.

This historical romance is third book in Thomas’ Fitzhugh Trilogy (I loved all three and have reviewed the first one, Beguiling the Beauty). By this point, we know the two protagonists, Helena Fitzhugh and Viscount Hastings (David), pretty well. Helena is in love with a married man who refused to marry her for fear of angering his mother. David is in love with Helena and has been for many years, something Helena does not realize. Helena has been carrying on with this married man and David, worried about her reputation, has been keeping a close eye on her, even as watching her fawn over someone else breaks his heart. Oh, and Helena hates David.

David’s response to Helena’s disdain? Constant tormenting. As Thomas writes, “More than even her scorn he feared her apathy—the opposite of love was not hate, but indifference: to exist in such proximity to her, yet make no impression upon her awareness, upon her soul.”

Then a close relative of the wife of the man with whom Helena is having an affair sets a trap to catch Helena and her love in delicto flagrante. David learns of the setup and rushes to protect Helena. And so they are caught together. On their way to elope, though, they are in a terrible carriage accident which seriously injuries Helena. While waiting to see if she will recover:

[David] took hold of [Helena’s] hand. “Come, wake up. Tell me to keep my hand to myself. Tell me to get out of your room. Tell me to—” This time he could no longer hold back his tears. And with them came words that he’d never been able to say to her his entire life. “I love you, Helena. I have always loved you. Wake up and let me prove it to you.”

And she does wake up. But (isn’t there always one?) she has amnesia. The oldest cliche in the world of soap opera in the hands of Thomas becomes a beautiful story of discovery between a man deeply in love and the woman whom he has always wanted. They begin almost anew, their animosity suddenly thrown out. They have told her that David is her husband (thinking that would be easier to say than to explain the complicated situation in which they found themselves before the accident). Helena re-learns David and their relationship is strong.

And yet, their journey is not an easy one as Helena slowly regains parts of her memory. It all comes to a head when she suddenly remembers the way she used to feel about David and that she used to love a married man. But she does not forget the weeks after waking following the accident. It all mixes together and Helena must figure out how to make sense of it all. I will not ruin how this plays out but it was not what I expected in the best possible way.

I give Tempting the Bride 4 out of 5 stars.

Purchase It: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book People, IndieBound, Powell’s

All three books use animosity in their own ways to tell phenomenal romances. Each of them are on my list of favorite romance novels.


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