Pandora Effington comes from a rather large and eccentric family. Her father has given her a sizable income, so she feels no pressure to marry like most young ladies her age do. She has spent seven glorious seasons in the London social whirl, but no man has yet won her heart. Most of the young bucks Pandora has encountered have left her feeling disappointed. She wants a man who knows how to be a true hero, and she absolutely refuses to marry without a love like her parents share. When Maximillian Wells suggests that they would suit, because they each meet the other's requirements for a mate, Pandora isn't quite convinced. She can't deny that Max's touch sends shivers down her spine and makes her long for things she probably shouldn't, but can he truly be the man she wants? To find out, Pandora proposes that Max take her hero test, and if he wins, she will become his wife. But she is determined not to let that happen and makes the test all but impossible to pass.
Max knows that he must marry soon, but he's bored by most of the simpering misses of the ton. He wants a wife who will keep him on his toes and make life interesting. A young woman with scandals in her past who has earned the nickname The Hellion of Grosvenor Square seems like just such a person, and it doesn't hurt that she's beautiful too. When Pandora makes her proposition, Max is sure he's up to the test, until he finds out exactly what's involved. It's certainly going to be a trial of epic proportions, but with a little help from Pandora's family and friends, he just might manage to succeed. Soon he finds himself falling for her and wanting to win far more than just a wife; he wants to win her heart. Even if Max prevails in the test, can he really force Pandora to the altar when the willful girl refuses to admit she's fallen in love too?
The Wedding Bargain is a fun, light-hearted, Regency romp that turned out to be a pretty entertaining read. The hero has a reputation as "a rake, a rogue, a scoundrel, and a beast." The heroine has caught his eye, and knowing that he must marry soon to produce an heir, he's determined to do whatever it takes to have her. She has been dubbed the Hellion of Grosvenor Square, and while it's not a title she's entirely earned, she is a very spirited young lady who refuses to marry without love. The two strike up an amusing bargain in which she puts him to the test to determine whether or not he can truly be the hero she craves. She thinks the test she devises based on the Twelve Labors of Hercules will be virtually impossible for him to pass, but she didn't count on his ingenuity or her family and friends meddling to bring them together. It all made for a very amusing story. Prior to this I'd only read one novella by Victoria Alexander that was just OK for me, so I was very pleasantly surprised to enjoy this book.
Pandora's family is a bit eccentric, particularly her father and mother who are experts in Greek antiquities. As their only child, her father has bestowed a sizable income on her and she is also their heir, so she has really felt no pressing need to marry. Her parents have given her a great deal of latitude, and she sometimes pushes the envelope when it comes to flouting society's rules. Because of her slightly scandalous exploits, most of her peers call her the Hellion of Grosvenor Square. Pandora is in her seventh season, when most young ladies would be considered firmly on the shelf spinsters, but she simply thinks of herself as independent. If she ever marries at all, it will only be for love. When she believes Max may be pursuing her best friend with dishonorable intentions, she confronts him, and it leads to a verbal sparring match that she is surprised to find herself enjoying. From there, they share their vision of the ideal mate, but when Max declares that he meets her every desire, she's skeptical, so he dares her to put him to the test. Given Pandora's circumstances and her attitude toward marriage, I think it would have been easy for her to come off as either too cold or too cocky and vain, but thankfully, neither is the case. I thought that she was a pretty well-balanced heroine who was intelligent and competitive without being conceited. I was also pleased to see that she could be empathetic when the situation called for it. I think she really enjoyed matching wits with Max and was sometimes contrary simply because she loved playing the game. Pandora can also be a very stubborn young lady, who has a hard time admitting what's right in front of her face, namely that first, she's attracted to Max, and later, she's fallen in love with him. While perhaps, she skated a bit too close to the edge of annoying me with this trait, I really found it more funny than anything.
Max knows he must marry, but really wants nothing to do with the simpering misses who typically pursue him. He is certain life would be a complete bore with such a biddable wife, so he's looking for someone with more backbone and spirit. He's taken notice of Pandora before, but never quite so much as when she confronts him. He knows in an instant that life with her would never be dull, so he determines then and there to do whatever it takes to win her hand in marriage. After hearing her list of requirements for a husband, he points out that he meets every one. When it becomes apparent that what she's really looking for is a hero, he wants to prove to her that he can be that man. I love how dogged Max is in his pursuit of Pandora. He truly is willing to do just about anything, up to and including making a fool out of himself, to show her that he's the man for her. I found that quite romantic, as actions often speak louder than words. Max is determined to win the game, not just because he's competitive, but because he truly loves Pandora and wants to prove that he can be her hero. In reality, Max was already a war hero, having fought against Napoleon. I was glad to see the author take a step back from all the fun and games and allow the reader to see a bit of this side of him when he tells Pandora a little about his time in the war. I think it helped to build his characterization more, and overall, Max was a very admirable hero. I just wish he'd been a little more forthcoming with his declarations of love.
With The Wedding Bargain being the first in the fairly long Effington Family & Friends series, I was a bit surprised that there weren't many secondary characters with potential for their own books being introduced. There are Effingtons aplenty in the background, but most are a bit older and already attached, like Pandora's parents and aunts. The only Effington we get to meet who doesn't fall into those categories is Pandora's cousin, Gillian, who is a young widow. She becomes the heroine of the next book, The Husband List. Gillian is only in one scene, so I can't say that I got a really good feel for her character, but I do look forward to giving her book a try. The two characters who do play significant supporting roles are Max's best friend, Laurie, and Pandora's best friend, Cynthia. They share a rather sweet, secondary romance that was almost as much fun as Max and Pandora's.
The main thing that bothered me about The Wedding Bargain and that took away the star is that Max and Pandora are both quite stubborn about not revealing their feeling for one another. Even though Pandora comes to realize she wants to marry Max, she refuses to do so without love. Max is doing everything he can to show Pandora how much he loves her, but she still doesn't trust that he does, because he hasn't said the words. Because of this, she holds back from saying them too and keeps trying to sabotage his efforts to win the game. For Max's part, he's afraid to say the words for fear that Pandora doesn't return his affections. It's readily apparent that they both do love each other to distraction, so I didn't find their refusal to say the words until the final pages as gratingly annoying as I might have otherwise. However, their reasoning does get pretty convoluted at times, and occasionally, I found myself rolling my eyes, thinking "Would somebody just say it already?"
Otherwise, The Wedding Bargain was a pretty enjoyable read. It could perhaps be a bit dialog heavy at times, and I picked up on some repetitious words, phrases, and character actions. But these things didn't detract much from my overall satisfaction with the story. Another thing that kept Max and Pandora's refusal to say those three little words from becoming too irritating is that the sexual tension is done quite well. I could really feel their burgeoning attraction for one another, and I also loved their witty bantering. The game itself is quite amusing, adventurous, and creative too, so it kept me reading, wanting to know just how Max pulled off all these seemingly impossible tasks. All in all, it was an entertaining romp that I would recommend to readers who are looking for a historical romance that's lighter and more humorous.
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