RELUCTANT BRIDES…

When love is the key and dowry the bait, who can predict what a woman might do?

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MIBN was fortunate enough to be invited to join Cheryl’s Scavenger Hunt & to read & review WICKED, the first in her new Reluctant Brides trilogy.  Think she has another winning threesome on her hands.  Looking forward to reading the next in the series, especially since I’ve already me the hero in WICKED. So, y’all enjoy this excerpt from the prologue and have fun on the Scavenger Hunt.  Good Luck!

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 “I don’t want to…to…marry.”  Evangeline hurled the word like an epithet.

“Miss Peabody believed you should,” was Mr. Thumberton’s unruffled response.

Rose gaped at her file, seeing her name—Rose Ralston—printed in big letters.  But there was another name too, and it swept through her with incredible unease.  Stanley Oswald.

“This man,” she said to Mr. Thumberton, “this Mr. Oswald.  I’m supposed to wed him?”

“Yes.”

“I’ve never even met him.  How could I?”

“Miss Peabody met him for you.  She had his background thoroughly checked and decided the two of you would be a perfect match.”

Nervously, Rose peered at Amelia and Evangeline, and they were staring at her in return, their expressions demanding she do something.  Of the three of them, Rose had always been their leader.

“We assumed,” Rose said, “that we would receive money.  We had planned to pool our resources, to purchase the school and keep it running.”

“There was never any chance of that,” he said.

“We could have!” Evangeline insisted.

“The property was mortgaged to the hilt,” he stated.

“I thought Miss Peabody owned it free and clear,” Amelia said.

“She did—in the distant past.  But the entire enterprise was very expensive and many families were negligent about paying tuition.  It was a constant problem.”

“She took out mortgages to stay afloat?” Rose asked.

“Yes.”

“We didn’t know.  She never mentioned it.”

“Well, she wouldn’t have, would she?  She wasn’t the type of person to air her troubles in public.”

“No, she wasn’t.”

There was a fraught, excruciating silence, then Amelia queried, “What now?”

“The property has been sold to square the debts, with the balance used for your dowries.  The facility is closing, so you’ll have to notify the students.  Over the next month, they either have to head home or to another school.  They have thirty days to vacate.”

“And what about us?” Evangeline inquired.  “What are we to do?”

“You’ll have this month to deal with the students, then you’ll have a month after that to arrive at your new…situations.  Your husbands are expecting you.”  His cheeks flushed bright red, and he turned to Rose.  “Except for you, Miss Ralston.  I’m told that your fiancé is elderly, and he’s requested you leave right away so the wedding can be held at once.”

“She’s betrothed me to an old man?” Rose bristled.

“Not old precisely.  Just…older.”

“This is insane,” Evangeline muttered.  “Miss Peabody is dead, and we’ve been at her beck and call since we were babies.  She can’t direct our lives from beyond the grave.”

Amelia snorted with disgust.  “It certainly appears that she has.”

“What if we refuse to comply?” Evangeline asked of Mr. Thumberton.  “What if we strike out on our own?”

Mr. Thumberton shrugged.  “Then I don’t know what will become of you.  The dowries are your gift from her.  There’s nothing else.”

Rose scowled.  “We’d be tossed out on the road?”

“I wouldn’t think it will be that drastic.  You have two months to apply for other positions.”

“It’s the middle of the school term, Mr. Thumberton.  How could we find another post so quickly?  And there are three of us.”

“I’m aware of that fact, Miss Ralston.  As I previously mentioned, I tried to talk Miss Peabody out of this scheme.”

“Why didn’t you?” Evangeline harshly chided.

Rose leaned over and patted Evangeline’s hand to calm her.  Evangeline had always been excitable.  Rose and Amelia liked to go along and get along.  Evangeline was the one with a temper, with a spark of mischief, the one most likely to land herself in a jam.  She’d never been able to accept consequences or blithely obey ridiculous commands.  She argued and dissected every circumstance.

“It’s not his fault, Evangeline,” Rose said.

“He aided and abetted her in her lunacy.”

“I did,” he admitted, “to my immense regret, but she was very determined.  She felt if she simply gave you the money, you’d spend it and then you’d have nothing.  She was buying you security.  It was her method of protecting you.”

“But…husbands.”  Evangeline actually shuddered.

“Yes, husbands.”  He frowned.  “It’s not the end of the world, Miss Etherton.  You’re not the first women in history to be pushed into arranged marriages.  There are many worse conclusions for a female.  You’re not even related to Miss Peabody.  She could have kicked you out the door without a penny in your pocket.”

“Yet she didn’t,” Rose mused.

“Lucky us,” Evangeline sarcastically retorted.

“These sorts of unions,” he contended, “where the parties are carefully selected, can be extremely successful.”

“These men are strangers to us!” Evangeline wailed.

“But not to Miss Peabody,” he continued.  “She went to a great deal of trouble on your behalves.  She picked gentlemen who will complement your personalities, who will furnish you with the futures you deserve.”

They were quiet again, stunned, shocked beyond measure.  Finally, Amelia gazed at Rose and inquired, “What do you think, Rose?”

“I don’t know.  It’s all so sudden.”

“It’s an even faster—and more difficult—decision for you, Miss Ralston,” he reminded her.  “Miss Hubbard and Miss Etherton can dither and debate, but your fiancé has asked us to send word today that you’re on your way.”

Rose paled.  “Today?”

“Yes.”

She couldn’t believe it, couldn’t come to grips with the bizarre turn of events.

She’d been expecting money, a bequest that would have allowed her to carry on in the same condition in which she’d muddled through for years.  She’d thought they could buy the school, that they could remodel and decorate and make the place their own, but she could see now that it had been a fool’s dream, perpetrated by a trio of inexperienced, naïve ninnies.

Hadn’t she secretly wished she could wed and have children?  Hadn’t she secretly hoped that a dowry would magically appear?  She’d never had any prospects and had no relatives who would claim her, so she’d assumed her position as a teacher was her only option.

Miss Peabody had given her a different choice, had opened up a whole new opportunity.  Should she refuse the gift that had been bestowed?  After all, if she didn’t take the husband and the change of situation, what would she do?

Mr. Thumberton had insisted she’d have nothing, and the notion of being without funds or alternatives was terrifying.

“Can I ponder this for a bit?” she asked him.

It seemed a reasonable request, but his reply was too, too infuriating.

“You can have a half hour to confer with your friends,” he said.  “I’ll be waiting for your answer.”

reluctantMy thoughts on WICKED 3.5 stars  

In WICKED Cheryl Holt introduces us to three orphans, Rose, Evangeline, and Amelia.  Now in their twenties they’ve lived at Ms. Peabody’s School for girls the majority of their lives.  Once students they’re now teachers.  Ms. Peabody has assured Rose they will be provided for once she has passed.  The women dream of taking their inheritances, buying the school, and continuing their present lives uninterrupted.  Never could they have envisioned the form Ms. Peabody’s “provisions” would take.  Surprisingly, to their horror and dismay, Ms. Peabody provided them dowries and purchased each a husband whom she personally vetted and deemed a perfect match. 

 My first thought on hearing Ms. Peabody’s legacy was, “what could she know about matching people up?”  The next, “This could lead to a wealth of intriguing situations”, and it certainly did.     

Let’s meet the players:  

Rose Ralston ~ though hesitant about her future, is an optimist.  A husband, children, and home are all gifts she thought to never possess.  Rose is intelligent, moral, and a curious mix of worldly and naive.   Poor Rose isn’t prepared for what awaits her at Summerfield but rises to the occasion splendidly.  

James Talbot was an orphan.  He was brought to Summerfield when he was four as company for Edwina, Stanley’s wife.  Stanley sent James to school, bought his army commission, and provided for him in every way. Some believe he’s Stanley’s illegitimate son but there’s no resemblance or proof.  James is handsome, intelligent, something of a rake, and a bit of an enigma.  Usually Ms. Holt’s heroes are arrogant, often in an over the top manner I find highly amusing, but James isn’t typical.  It’s part of his charm and makes him perfect for Rose.  

Stanley Oswald ~ Rose’s husband to be and James’ benefactor.  Stanley is in his seventies and desperate for an heir.  I found him manipulative, selfish, overbearing, and when you get to know him better, quite repugnant.  Poor Rose.   

Oscar Oswald ~ Stanley’s brother and the local vicar. Oscar is envious, mean-spirited, and the last person on earth who should hold the position of vicar.  He’ll be praying Rose doesn’t have a son so he can inherit.  It’ll be a sad day for Summerfield and the village if that happens.  

Veronica Oswald ~ Oscar’s step-daughter and quite the schemer. Veronica has her cap set for James and she’s determined to win him by hook or crook, it’s all the same to her.  Veronica is one of those women who don’t like other women especially if they can be considered competition.  

Oscar and Veronica are Ms. Holt’s typical “bad guys” but Stanley is especially abhorrent.  You’ll have to read for yourself to discover why Stanley trips my revulsion trigger. 

Lucas Drake has been James’ best friend since they met at boarding school.  They served in the army together and both are at loose ends since leaving.  James and Lucas are visiting Summerfield before continuing on to London.  Lucas has been a constant disappointment to his father and avoids his family estate until he absolutely has to go.

 Let the games begin.

The best laid plans, oh how they do go disastrously awry in WICKED.  Plans are easy in theory but when those hypotheticals become real people, that’s when things start to get sticky.  The ante is upped even higher when the players realize they’ve failed to think through all the possible repercussions.  

Secrets surround Rose and James’ pasts.  Rose knows her history and chooses to keep it to herself while James is completely ignorant of his.  It’s one of the carrots Stanley constantly dangles in his face. What is the truth of James’ parentage?  Is there truly a mystery or is it more of Stanley’s manipulation?    

WICKED is pure escapist entertainment and an apropos title for Rose’s story.  Ms. Holt devised a provocative plot twist and created a character in Stanley that seriously challenged my better nature.  While not normally a fan of visiting the characters after the happily ever after, this is one occasion I really want to see the “after”.  When the chickens had come home to roost, the dirty laundry had been aired, and the secrets were brought to light I was left with one question, “did Ms. Peabody envision this ending?” 

 

cheryl in pearlsCheryl Holt is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thirty-nine novels. She’s also an Amazon “Top 100” author.

She’s also a lawyer and mom, and at age 40, with two babies at home, she started a new career as a commercial fiction writer. She’d hoped to be a suspense novelist, but couldn’t sell any of her manuscripts, so she ended up taking a detour into romance, where she was stunned to discover that she has an incredible knack for writing some of the world’s greatest love stories.

Her books have been released to wide acclaim, and she has won or been nominated for many national awards. She is particularly proud to have been named “Best Storyteller of the Year,” by the trade magazine, Romantic Times BOOK Reviews.

Her hot, sexy, dramatic stories of passion and illicit love have captivated fans around the world, and she’s celebrated as the Queen of Erotic Romance, which is currently the fastest selling subgenre of women’s fiction. Due to the ferociousness of some of her characters, she’s also known as the International Queen of Villains.

She received degrees in music, languages, and education, from South Dakota State University, and her juris doctorate was obtained at the University of Wyoming. Her colorful and chaotic employment history includes such variety as public school teacher, cook, bartender, lobbyist, and political activist. She also did brief stints in metro-Denver as a deputy district attorney and administrative law judge.

Cheryl lives and writes in Hollywood, California.        Visit Cheryl   FB      Amazon

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