This is technically the third book in the Fitzhugh
-trilogy, where each Fitzhugh sibling gets their own book. This book stands fine on its own (and frankly, I wasn't overly fond of the other two books - hence no reviews), though there may be spoilers for the two other books in the series.
What if you could have a second chance to make a first impression? David Hillsborough, Viscount Hastings, has loved Helena Fitzhugh since they were both fourteen years old. Her older sister Venetia is the legendary beauty of her generation, yet Hastings only ever had eyes for Helena, since he first laid eyes on her. Afraid of rejection, he wasn't about to admit his infatuation, and instead, as is the wont of teenage boys, acted like an idiot and insulted her instead. She insulted him right back, and from her side, instant loathing was born. As David is Helena's brother's best friend, their paths crossed frequently up through the years, and at every encounter, barbs flew from either side.
Now Helena is a businesswoman who runs her own publishing company. Her sister is a Duchess and her brother is an Earl. So she really should know better than to court scandal by meeting a married man in secret. Hastings discovers that she's been spending time in the bedroom of her childhood sweetheart, Mr. Andrew Martin, and promptly reveals her foolish actions to her family. Despite them keeping her under near constant supervision, Helena is determined not to be thwarted, and she's certainly not inclined to listen to the dire warnings of Hastings, even though the result of her affair becoming public would utterly ruin her reputation, and possibly that of her siblings.
When Helena receives a telegram that she believes is from Mr. Martin, she sneaks away from the servants her sister and brother have escorting her, to meet him at a hotel. She has no idea that the telegram is, in fact, sent by Mr. Martin's interfering sister-in-law, determined to catch him in the act. Hastings discovers the plot and rushes to the hotel in the nick of time, so that when Mr. Martin's mother and sister-in-law burst into the hotel room, they find Helena and Hastings in a heated embrace, with the explanation that the couple just eloped.
Naturally, the news spreads like wildfire, and Helena has no choice but to accept Hastings' hand in marriage. Before they can actually be wed, however, Helena is nearly run over by a carriage, and lies comatose for three days. When she wakes up, she has no recollection of anything that happened after her fourteenth birthday, and is shocked to see her siblings not only grown, but married, and herself apparently married to a man she's never met. Hastings is now given the wonderful opportunity of letting Helena see the real man behind all the insults, scorn and reprehensible behaviour he's shown her for their entire acquaintance. Is it possible that he can make her love him as much as he loves her? But what will happen when her memory eventually returns?
Before the Fitzhugh
trilogy, I had generally been very taken with Sherry Thomas's earlier romances. She writes estranged couples and the less idyllic sides of romantic love very well. Yet I didn't really like Beguiling the Beauty (Helena's sister Venetia's book) or Ravishing the Heiress (about Helena's brother and sister-in-law) all that much. They were well written, because Thomas is truly a master of description and writing, but I just didn't warm that much to the characters. Helena and Hastings obviously appear in those books, and their antagonistic relationship is very obvious.
However, upon discovering that an amnesia story line was central to the plot of Tempting the Bride, my curiosity won me over, and I'm very glad that I gave her another chance, because this was a very enjoyable read.
Hastings is a talented painter and illustrator, a capable landowner, and a deeply affectionate father to his illegitimate daughter (who's not like normal kids, and quite possibly borderline Aspergic, from the descriptions of her in this book). He is, however, a complete and utter fool where Helena is concerned. Her entire family have known about his feelings for years, yet he's stuck in a destructive pattern every time he sees her. Hoping to provoke lustful feelings in her, he writes an erotic manuscripts and asks her to publish it. Unbeknownst to Helena, he also writes and illustrates children's stories, that he's also sent her publishing company under an assumed name. He sees that her affair with Martin is going to end badly, and while it would mean that he could finally marry her, he tries to offer her advice and warns her to stop courting scandal.
I liked Helena a lot better after she lost her memory, when she was no longer so sharp and disregarding of those around her. It's understandable that she would be unpleasant to Hastings, of course, and even when he's at his most lecherous and douchy towards her, she gives as good as she gets. I can also understand that it would be hurtful to her that her childhood sweetheart married another for convenience rather than love, but that she persists in foolish and headstrong behaviour for years when it's quite clear both that she's risking not only her own reputation, but that of her family, annoyed me. Especially because it's so obvious that Mr. Martin's a weak-willed, spineless man, wholly undeserving of her.
The description of the days when Helena is comatose, and generally the insight into Hastings' emotions, is rather heartbreaking. His unrequited love is so strong and passionate, and he knows that he's being a jerk, but just can't help himself. When he's given a new chance to woo the woman he loves, you can't help but cheer him on, and I was impressed at how well Thomas managed the whole amnesia subplot, that could have turned so hokey and cliched, but instead played out very enjoyably indeed. Both strong and passionate people, Helena and Hastings are clearly made for each other, and I enjoyed seeing them find their happy ending.
Sherry Thomas has also published the manuscript that Hastings wrote to Helena as an erotic novella, The Bride of Larkspear which is available as its own story, both in paper and e-book form. It's a very steamy, but also extremely well-written little story, which naturally compliments Tempting the Bride excellently.