A RUNAWAY BRIDE?
Jennifer couldn’t remember the man she’d married only months ago, or the circumstances that had separated them on their wedding night. Edward Carlton claimed they were legally wed, but her amnesia had caused the man she’d once vowed to love to become a stranger.
Edward thought that Jennie had abandoned him, but once she was in his arms she knew she would never have left willingly. And as a web of deceit tightened around her, Jennie realized that learning the truth about her past could be very dangerous indeed.
THE WEDDING NIGHT: The excitement began when they said, “I do.”
I’ll spare you the boring details of how I ended up with a gin-u-wine paper copy of this 1996 Silhouette Desire title, but I was planning to just read a couple pages to check it out, and next thing I knew the book was over. It’s got all the 90s you could want: an amnesiac Mary Sue heroine, a moody, emotionally wounded hero, a kind and fatherly vicar, and more “gauzy dresses” than the wardrobe department for a Summer’s Eve commercial. I ate it all up.
Fair warning, I plan to discuss some spoilers because, well, this book is almost 20 years old so I figure spoilers are kind of a moot point after 2 decades. Plus, it’s more fun for me this way!
Jennie is a mysterious young woman who showed up severely injured in the town of Avalon, New Mexico. She nearly died from her injuries, but though she’s miraculously recovering, she was left with no memory of who she is or how she came to Avalon. In an effort to discover her identity, the local vicar takes out an ad in a newspaper, which is why the wealthy Edward William Renberg Carlton IV (catchy name!) has arrived to see Jennie for himself. It turns out, he is….her husband! (cue dramatic music: ba ba BAAA!) She ran off with money and some jewelry right after their wedding, and he’s come to do…something. Exact revenge? Tell her off? He’s not quite sure, but he is compelled to see her. He learns that she was seriously injured and cannot remember anything, and he also learns that she is….blind! (ba ba BAAA!) And this is especially tragic because it turns out she made her living….as an painter! (ba ba BAAA!) The local townspeople, including the sheriff, have grown exceedingly fond of “their Jennie” and don’t know whether Edward was somehow involved in her injuries, but Edward wants to stick around and Jennie seems to feel comfortable with him, so they all set about trying to figure out what is really going on. Could Jennie really have left Edward in such a cruel way? If not, what could have made Jennie leave? Could she still be in danger? (Hint: Yes. Yes she could.)
I think the reason I enjoyed this book so much is because it is EXACTLY the kind of book that made me start loving romance in the first place. Jennie’s picture is undoubtedly in the Trope Dictionary next to the term “Mary Sue.” She is so unfailingly, unconsciously, unironically perfect that it makes your teeth hurt, but in a good way. She picks up on Edward’s moods and proclivities instantly. She is always patient and lovely, even when things around her are going to hell. She’s constantly described as “brave” and “innocent.” Everyone loves her, to the point that the whole town camps outside her hospital just to wait for word on her condition when she’s injured near the end. I’m saying this lady is SWEET. I loved her because she was so over the top. Disliking Jennie would be like disliking a super cute puppy.
Jennie may be sweet, but she ain’t deep. Sure, there’s a little angst over a lousy childhood where no one wanted her, blah blah, but really she’s just there to contribute to Edward’s story arc. Both of them have some serious self confidence issues and think no one could ever love them, but Edward’s feelings are more central to the plot, and explored in a bit more depth. (Tragic parental death alert, as if there was any other kind for a romance hero.) His previous perception of Jennie was that she could never have left him like she did, but yet he’s unable and unwilling to question the evidence that makes him believe she did it because deep down, he thinks he deserved it. Even after it’s obvious something more sinister is going on (she was dumped in the wilderness near death and wearing her wedding night lingerie! does that suggest a woman who ran away?), Edward still drags his feet on believing Jennie. Thankfully it doesn’t go on until the end–he does come to see the light, and his belief in Jennie is what allows him to react quickly at the end when she’s in danger again. While he was kind of a dick in his thoughts, I still liked him because at least he was kind and thoughtful to Jennie when he was with her. It was touching to see them come together despite themselves. You got the sense that they really were the right match–they just had to rediscover that fact.
I know, you’re now full of anxiety over Jennie’s blindness and wondering how she and Edward can negotiate the challenges and how she can regain a career since she can’t paint. Well, it’s all A-OK in Romanceland because Jennie gets injured again near the end and now miraculously…she can see again! (ba ba BAAAAAA!) No, this book does not have a particularly nuanced portrayal of disability.
Obviously this book is a bit ridiculous, but as I said above this is the kind of romance I grew up reading. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee 13 year old Jen would have adored this one. The heroine is a paragon of womanhood, the man is kind but broody, and the sex is open door but tame enough not to have scared me. (Oh, I almost forgot to mention that as I was writing this review I realized there’s a sequel, Overnight Heiress, focusing on Edward’s long lost sister. I’m in!) I don’t want to read this kind of book every day, but it sure is fun once in a while.
Grade: I’ll give this one a 4 out of 5 on my personal scale, but really that’s not very meaningful for anyone else. If you like gently-angsty 90s romance and can scrounge up a copy (it’s not available digitally), try this one. If not, move along!
This title is available from Silhouette Desire. You can purchase it here.