Pure Princess, Bartered Bride by Caitlin Crews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Caitlin Crews is a new writer on the Harlequin Presents scene that has gotten my attention. I picked this book up based on the blurb. I love arranged marriage/marriage of convenience as a theme in a romance novel. I think there is so much inherent tension with this storyline. A lot more is at stake when the hero and heroine are married and getting to know each other. They can't just walk away like an unmarried couple could. But can they make a marriage work, between strangers? Will their hearts be put at risk in a marriage that started out of obligation? In the right hands, this can be a very intense read. I'm happy to say that Ms. Crews succeeded in taking a well-loved premise and giving it life.
Luc is one of those heroes that is literally seething with emotions. He has been taught by his parent's rocky marriage, lived out in front of the tabloids, to keep very close control over his emotions. But still waters run deep. I knew he'd keep me reading. The man is like a volcano in the quiet hours before it erupts suddenly and with deadly force.
Gabrielle also wears a calm mask of composure. She has been conditioned since an early age to be the perfect, pretty princess. Her father's love was denied to her, and her goal in life was to do everything she could to earn it. The next thing she knows, she's bartered off to a billionaire businessman of aristocratic heritage, without being consulted or asked if she wants the marriage first. Gabrielle sucks it up like a good future Queen and walks down the aisle...to a man that scares the life out of her. He's tall, dark, handsome, and full of intense masculinity. And he's her husband. She never balks at duty, but this is more than she can take. There's not question that this man wants to be in charge and run things, has plans to control his new bride within an inch of her life. She feels as though she's merely traded one prison for another. After her husband claims his kiss of possession on their wedding night, she flees the scene, leaving him to be exposed to mockery in the tabloids (his worst nightmare, thanks to his parents). Well, we know Gabrielle won't stay hidden for long from a ruthless, unstoppable man like her husband. He tracks her down to her friend's bungalow in California, and he's determined to claim his bride as is his right. Yes, this is one of those 'mine' heroes. Works for me!
This book has the right ingredients for a very good, entertaining Harlequin Presents. The powerful attraction between Gabrielle and Luc radiated off the pages when I was reading. Luc is one of those heroes that you don't exactly love initially, but you can't resist, at the same time. He's so strict and arrogant about what he wants in a biddable wife, and he's sure he's going to get it. But he gets more than he bargains for. He doesn't seem to know what he wants. With Gabrielle he gets the perfect, decorous wife in the public eye, but in bed, she's wild for him. But he hates when she retreats behind the facade she's used to protect herself from the derision she's come to expect from the one man she couldn't make happy, her father. How does she know her husband will be any different?
Ms. Crews uses the sensual moments to fantastic effect in this book. They are the lens through which we see the walls break down between these two people who are controlled and afraid of emotions for different reasons. We see Luc go from being a man who hates emotions to one who wants nothing but emotional honesty from his wife. The way she tries to hide herself drives him crazy. Gabrielle tries very hard to keep herself from loving Luc, but she fails in the attempt. It's simply heartbreaking when Luc throws her love back in her face because he believes she betrays him.
The climax of this book had me hanging on the edge of my seat. I couldn't put it down as I kept reading to see how things would resolve. I really admire how Ms. Crews pulled it all together. Both Gabrielle and Luc had to reach an epiphany where they realized that their love was more important than any shallow thing like public image or looking bad to others, even their pride. They had to take leaps of faith, to come to trust their hearts in each other's hands.
This book is heavy on internal dialogue and description. But it was used to excellent effect. The emotions came off the pages at me, which is what I look for in a good book. As I said above, I really enjoyed the love scenes, because they showed so much about the feelings between Gabrielle and Luc. My favorite was the limo scene. Well done!
If you're looking for a new Harlequin Presents author, you should definitely give Ms. Crews a try. I look forward to reading further books by her.
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