Thanks to a profligate father, Jocelyn Shelton grew up nearly penniless, despite being an aristocrat, but she never gave up on her dream of marrying a prince, something she's longed for since she was a little girl. She's finally gotten her chance for a season in London and has become the toast of the ton, actually attracting the attention of the real Prince of Avalonia. When the prince asks for a private meeting at a ball, Jocelyn knows it's not quite proper, but strongly suspecting he's about to propose, she goes to the library for their assignation anyway. There, she doesn't find the prince, but she does accidentally overhear two men plotting to assassinate him. When the men become aware of her presence, one of them throws a knife at her head. Just then a handsome stranger arrives on the scene, kissing her senseless to keep her from screaming in fright.
Randall Beaumont has been following one of the men while investigating the threat to the visiting prince for the English government. Kissing the lovely young lady was no hardship at all and was more than worth it to keep her calm. He thinks the assassins might go after Jocelyn again and decides to follow her, hoping to catch them in the act. When another attempt is made on Jocelyn's life, which nearly injures her family as well, Rand feels badly about placing her in that situation. Feeling the only course of action to protect Jocelyn's life is to whisk her away to the country, he agrees to a hasty marriage of convenience to also protect her reputation. Jocelyn is none to pleased about being cheated out of marrying her prince, and Rand believes she wouldn't have been his first choice of a wife either, but they can't deny that a fiery attraction burns between them. While safely ensconced at his uncle's castle, Rand and Jocelyn discover unexpected depths in each other's personalities and a burning passion that nearly consumes them, leading to them quickly falling in love. But Rand is keeping secrets from Jocelyn that could either alienate her or fulfill her deepest longing. Meanwhile the assassins are still on the loose, and danger may come from a source they've least suspected.
Many a little girl dreams of growing up to marry a handsome prince. As a lover of fairy tales in my childhood, I know I did. And that's part of the premise around which The Prince's Bride is based. Our heroine, Jocelyn, believed from the time she was ten years old that she was going to marry a handsome prince. She's been having a successful season in London and has even caught the attention of a visiting foreign prince, but when he entices her into a private meeting at a ball, she ends up the target of assassins when she witnesses another private meeting she shouldn't have. Enter our hero, Rand, a Viscount who works for the English government and who has been investigating the threat to the prince. Knowing that the assassins will probably go after Jocelyn again, he secretly uses her as bait, which nearly gets her killed. Feeling badly that he placed Jocelyn and her family in danger, he vows to protect her by any means necessary, even entering into a marriage of convenience, so that he can whisk her away to his uncle's rural castle for safe-keeping, where they fall madly in love. It was all a romantic fairy tale scenario that I very much enjoyed reading.
While reading the last couple of books in the series, where we first meet Jocelyn, I had some reservations about her character. I could relate to her dreams of marrying a prince, and sometimes she seemed very sweet. Other times, however, she seemed a little shallow and mercenary, something that Rand believes of her as well in the beginning. Admittedly, Jocelyn is none too happy about marrying a mere viscount at first, but it's not just that his title isn't what she'd hoped for. It's also because she was being forced to marry a man out of convenience rather than choice, which was understandable. From there, Jocelyn only grew, and I have to say that I also grew to like her quite well. She's instantly charmed by Rand's uncle and his castle even if it is in disrepair, and she begins to look at the bright side of her marriage. At least her husband is attractive to the point that she's almost constantly hot and bothered when he's around. She figures if she's going to be married she might as well take advantage of the perks of matrimony. It was really funny how Rand was trying to woo her into wanting to make love with him, but she was already there and couldn't wait. Jocelyn also continues to prove herself as she falls for Rand. She quickly comes to terms with the idea that being married to him could be great even though she initially believes he doesn't have much to offer in the way of title or money. Love soon trumps the material things for her, so that when the full truth comes out, the reader knows that Jocelyn is being sincere. I also like that she wasn't the featherbrained beauty she previously seemed to be, but actually showed intelligence in thinking several things through. I was also glad to see that she finally gave up her vanity in favor of having better eyesight by wearing her glasses.
Out of Thomas's three friends who were introduced in the previous book, Rand was my favorite. He turned out to be a dashing hero here. I loved his protectiveness toward Jocelyn and that even though she wasn't the wife of his choosing, he was willing to marry her out of a sense of honor and duty. Since he was expecting her to be shallow, he's very surprised to find depth and intelligence underneath her beautiful exterior. I like that he was more interested in marrying someone with intelligence rather than beauty, because that's how I am. And of course, he got both. I also like that in spite of being wildly attracted to her, he didn't just demand his husbandly rights or fall right into bed with her. He actually wanted to romance her a little and get her to want him, which wasn't too difficult.;-) Rand didn't plan on falling in love, but he found that Jocelyn was an easy woman to love. I also adored him for trusting her. When Alexei basically kidnapped her to gain Rand's cooperation, he appropriately read into the clues she left behind for him and instinctively knew that she hadn't left him for another man even though that was nearly everyone else's initial thought.
Since the bulk of the story takes place at a rural castle, there aren't as many supporting characters on the canvas as there were with some of the previous books. Jocelyn's two sisters, Marianne and Becky, are seen a few times, and her brother, Richard (The Husband List), finally returns from his lengthy trip to America. Marianne and Thomas (The Marriage Lesson) marry, but it's little more than a mention in the background. Richard and Thomas also accompany Rand on his long journey to Avalonia, when he goes after Jocelyn. Rand's uncle was a hoot. Other than him, I'd say that Prince Alexei is the primary supporting character in this book. I was never quite sure what to make of him, because he has his moments of decency, but he's also a manipulator. I guess in the end he was OK, because he didn't make good on any of his threats and at his heart was only looking out for the well-being of his country. While none of the unattached characters seem to carry on and get their own books, it does look like Alexei's sister (who wasn't seen in this story) will become the heroine of the next book of the series, Her Highness, My Wife.
Overall, The Prince's Bride was a very enjoyable read for me. Like its predecessors in the Effington Family & Friends series, it had its light-hearted moments, but it also had some serious ones as well, primarily in the form of a little political intrigue. I think this gave it some substance and kept it from being overly breezy which was my main issue with a couple of the other books in the series. While the reasons for Rand and Jocelyn needing to marry so quickly could have been a little stronger (they didn't really try very hard to come up with other potential ways to protect her), as could a few other plot points, such as Rand capitulating to Alexei's reasons for luring him to Avalonia, it was still a good read. Also Rand and Jocelyn do fall in love rather quickly, but for some reason, to me, it didn't seem like it. Maybe I was simply enamored of the fairy tale quality of the story or the marriage of convenience (regardless of the strength of the reasons it's still a favorite trope of mine). Or maybe it's because I felt a strong emotional connection between Rand and Jocelyn. Whatever it was, I did have fun reading this book. Up until now, I've found enjoyment in Victoria Alexander's stories, but I hadn't yet found one that I could call a real keeper. With The Prince's Bride, now I have, and I'm looking forward to reading more of the series.
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