The Bewildered Bride
by Vanessa Riley
Series Advertisements for Love
Genre Adult Historical Romance
Publisher Entangled Amara
Publication Date August 12, 2019
Ruth Croome, a Blackamoor heiress, was supposed to get married in a gorgeous wedding gown, made from her father’s exquisite fabrics. Instead, they eloped to Gretna Green and upon returning, their carriage was beset by highwaymen and she witnessed the murder of her new husband. Now, four years later, with a child, she wants to move on with her life. A marriage of convenience will do. Ruth already had a love for the ages.
Adam Wilky is really the heir to the Wycliff barony—which he never told Ruth. Too much danger. So many secrets. When he was nearly beaten to death and sold into impressment, he thought Ruth had died, too. Ready for revenge, he finally returns and discovers Ruth alive—with a son who could only be his—and she is furious to discover he lied to her. Now it’ll take more than remembered passion if he hopes to win his reluctant wife back…
Each book in the Advertisements for Love series is a standalone story.
CHAPTER ONEOctober 4, 1818, Gretna Green, Scotland
The words between my Adam and the innkeeper left me shaking.
Get your bed wench out of here.
A chemise slipping from my shoulder exposed our so-called sin.
How dare you bring a whore to my good establishment!
The hate echoed in my head, rattling and shaking my conscience
. I was frozen.
Torn between fleeing and defending my love, I settled for hiding with blankets at my chin.
How could that horrible man reduce my vows said before God to something illicit and tawdry?
Plink. Plink. Scatter.
Coins dropped to the floor.
My hearing was sharp, sharper than my sight, and I could picture Adam throwing pence to prove a point.
Didn’t he know points stabbed?
Even a rich man’s son could be killed.
Adam came back inside our room and slammed the door. “My love, we must leave. Ruthy, we have to be on the road sooner than I wanted.”
His voice was calm, like nothing had happened. He finished dressing, tied his perfect cravat, and leaned over the mattress, kissing my nose.
But I knew Adam.
He prayed and called for blessings but could curse like a hot-headed sailor.
My love’s cheeks were red, flushed with anger, and he kept clenching and unfurling his fingers as if he’d fight the next person who crossed his path.
“I adore you, my Ruth.”
My husband’s voice—perfection. So sweet to my ears, if a masculine sound could be called sweet. I couldn’t think when he whispered my name.
“Ruthy, my love, I’m going to the stables.”
I pressed my hand to my middle and pushed hard on my stomach to squash the wiggles and tingles inside.
“Wait here for me.”
“No, I must come with you,” I begged to stay at his side.
“No, my Ruthy. Another time you’ll get what you want. But this is for your safety. My wife must stay safe.”
Mesmerized, I nodded. His power over me was complete. He took his gold cross from his neck and put it about mine. “So, you won’t forget me while you dress.”
The trance ended when he turned and reached for the door latch.
“Don’t, Adam. Don’t do anything rash.” I wanted to say stupid, don’t do anything stupid, but that would push him into trouble. His hot temper surpassed mine when he thought I suffered.
“I won’t, Ruthy. I won’t be long.”
Fingering the cross, I decided to try one more time to keep him. I feared that I’d never see him again if he left this room. My hands came together, palms flat and pointing up toward him. “Adam, please stay. Let me dress and come with you. I don’t want us apart.”
“I’ll be back for you when our carriage is ready. My wife is not waiting in the cold.” He came back and kissed my forehead like a reward for a good girl.
But I was his girl. And he was all mine.
Tossing me a wink, Adam slipped to the door again. “I’ll be back soon, to help you lace up your corset and anything else I had a hand in removing.”
My husband loved his jokes, but his jaw was stiff. His face remained beet red. Anger would eat him up.
The door closed with a thud. The lock clicked.
I was alone.
I climbed out of bed and found my shoes. Low boots with hard soles were better than bare feet when running for your life.
I paced around the smallish mattress of the rented room. The bedclothes he’d tossed off when the innkeeper had pounded on the door lay here and there. A pillow flopped half against the bedpost.
It looked like a struggle, where a volatile argument had occurred, not an abandoned lovers’ nest.
The floorboards creaking under my shifting weight made my heart race.
I stopped, grabbed the pine footboard, and tried to breathe.
My ears perked to the footsteps outside my door.
I kept watching the door that didn’t open.
The pounding in my head grew so loud I saw stars and could almost envision Adam coming across the threshold. But I knew that was my fear twisting up my insides.
The vengeful innkeeper had given us an hour to leave. That time couldn’t be up, not yet. Adam hadn’t returned.
My only possessions—a balled-up dress, a nightgown, a silver brush—I tossed into my trunk. I should lock it up, close the metal clasps, but I wasn’t done in this room and wanted to leave the way I came, on my husband’s arm
I picked up my pearls from the bed table. The smooth beads felt cold in my sweating palm. Five days ago, I’d worn them for Adam as we’d married with the anvil priest.
Adam had beamed at me with a wide lazy smile as he had tonight, before the knock upon our door.
The pearls were now slippery in my hand. I tossed them into the trunk before they fell and burst apart. Papa had given them to me for my birthday, something to wear for my coming-out. Or for a wedding to a groom he’d choose.
My concerns for my parents pressed. I pictured Mama rocking, blank faced, in a chair, fearing her wild child was lost to the streets. Gone a fortnight, traveling from London to Scotland and only now heading back—I must be dead to them. Surely, they think me killed, even slaughtered like my uncle.
Adam had persuaded me to send no note. He’d said it was too risky then had smothered my complaints in a kiss. That silver-tongued devil could convince me the world was flat, that I was the Queen of England. One look at me with his deep-gray, almost black, eyes would send me spinning. He wove sweet words about me—I was better than Papa’s silk—and I became boneless and agreeable and not myself.
I pounded the footboard with my palm. I was Mama’s wild child, at nineteen, her oldest. I had caused such trouble—breaking curfew, sneaking out, running from chaperones.
I sank onto the bed, trying to stop my sobs.
A full minute I sat before I couldn’t bear it and leaped up.
Sitting on sheets that had lost the warmth of Adam’s body but teased the scent of his Bay Rum cologne ripped everything wide open.
I didn’t know who owned these tears—Mama, Adam, or me?
I had to get out of this room that now felt too big and empty.
Over my corset and chemise, I yanked on my favorite dress. I buttoned it fast and crazy, missing hooks and holes. There wasn’t time to fix it, so I hid the uneven placard under my shawl.
This, my wedding gown, should be worn with care. Fragile, soft silk, colored in primrose yellow, I’d worn it with pride when I’d become Mrs. Adam Wilky.
Fussing and cussing sounded outside my door. Maybe the innkeeper had found another couple to evict.
I’d wait until the corridor cleared, and then I’d leave.
Quiet. No footsteps. No creaking floorboards.
Locking my heavy trunk, I then struggled with it, and walked out of the room.
I held my breath, tiptoeing with my head up.
Soon I was halfway to the stairwell, too far to turn back. My boldness and pride kept me from retreating. I shifted the trunk and mumbled that I was resilient. I was a Croome as much as a Wilky. That should mean I possessed strength like my papa and shrewdness like Mama.
But I was alone, and none of these notions seemed to stick, not when someone had cursed at me and wished me dead.
Resting for a moment, I brushed at the creases in my dress.
Mama’s hot scolds about lazy bones admonished my soul. The spring muslin gown should’ve been folded, placed with its bodice lines straight on the chair, not tossed with lover’s abandon, without thought or care.
I laughed, a gut-wrenching chuckle. Fleeing for my life had fashionable consequences.
Come on, Ruthy, I said to myself, modeling Adam’s way of keeping me calm. We were only a half day’s travel to London. A few more hours and we’d be at Nineteen Fournier to face my parents. The grief I’d caused shifted through my brainbox, raising questions I didn’t want to think about.
Did we rush to elope?
Had we found love too fast?
Would this passion last?
Moonlight streamed through an open window. I headed toward it like a moth, swinging my heavy trunk. I peeked out the glass to get a glimpse of Adam or the carriage.
The light of the stars made the silver band on my finger sparkle. Pride cut through the confusion in my bosom. I am Mrs. Adam Wilky, the wife of a man who understands me better than any. He is worth it. I just need to find him.
I forced my chin to lift, forced my limbs to move, forced myself to believe I’d soon be safe in my husband’s arms.
Glowing slit eyes crossed my path.
I ran. The heaviness of my trunk jerked my shoulders. Blinking, I turned the corner and saw nothingness, especially nothing soft or furry or as scared as me.
My sight wasn’t normally bad, but thick-rimmed reading spectacles like Papa’s would someday be mine.
Finally, finally, finally—I found the stairwell, dashed inside, and hid in its blackness.
Back flat against a wall, I filled my lungs and waited.
My breath caught in my throat, and I hugged my trunk as if it were Adam. He’d told me to wait, that he’d come back for me, but my heart was about to tear apart. I was afraid I’d never see him again.
Never ever were we to part.
Sweat dripped down my neck. My hastily done chignon fell. It was frizzy and damp on my neck. I couldn’t fix it now. I needed Adam.
Counting my steps, I made it to the bottom of the stairs. Ten paces more and I was out the door. I held my breath again. No carriage.
I set the trunk down by my foot. Though small, the thing was heavy, very odd for a leather-skinned box holding so few items.
Cupping my hand to my face, I hunted for my love.
I saw nothing but road and fence.
Oh Lord, had he left?
I prayed with hands folded in front, fingers pressed high, eyes shut tight, like a good girl who hadn’t broken a commandment, defying her parents, one who hadn’t lied about going to Mrs. Carter’s for tea. She was one of Mama’s closest friends. Maybe they comforted each other.
“Where are you, Adam?”
He’d never leave me, not by choice.
Stories of his family’s treachery slammed into my chest. All the air fled. I forced my breath in and out and tapped my foot to this rhythm then leaned out and looked from side to side.
Every cloak-and-dagger meeting by the dock, near my father’s warehouse, swept into my head, the motion roaring, swinging my balance like a fiddler’s reel.
Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh. Every whispered conversation swirled.
Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh. Adam’s walk, his smile, swam past my eyes.
He’d said his uncle was after him.
I’d thought it was a joke. Something that added to the mystery of him.
Had evil come and taken my husband?
Why did Adam have to be digging into his uncle’s business, nosing about stuff that could get him killed? He could be slaughtered, like my uncle.
Papa’s brother had been murdered for being too black and building his business in areas where my people weren’t supposed to be. A bloodied jacket was all that had ever been discovered.
I’d found it balled up on the steps like he was nobody and nothing to this world.
That couldn’t be Adam’s fate, a bludgeoned cape that would haunt my mind forever. It would remind me of his walk, that swagger, draped in ebony velvet. The best time of my life had been loving him.
I looked down at my trembling hands.
My whole arm vibrated. I couldn’t control it.
I was lost.
The panic that stalked my thoughts covered me, catching me in a fine fabric mesh. It was too wide. No seams to split. No way out.
Fear for the man I loved did me in.
I started sinking.
No way out.
I tipped over.
The Bewildered Bride is a sloooooow moving/slow burn second chance romance (though only one character actually is aware of their second chance status for 80% of the book!) that has a whole lot going on besides the romance. Revenge. Secrets. A hidden identity. Tragic and often-horrific pasts. A fatherless child who may or may not be illegitimate…
So. Much. Going. On.
Ultimately, The Bewildered Bride had a very sweet ending, but goodness, it took so much to get us all there. Adam kept his true identity hidden from Ruth way longer than he should have–I lost count of how many times she thought goodness, this [add in a thing about the baron here] reminds me so much of Adam! or his [fill in aspect of his person/personality here] is just like Adam’s! Seriously, it was near constant, and soooo frustrating. She also did an awful lot of waffling between wanting to be with him–he made her feel so safe and protected!–and not trusting him at all and pushing him away. All part of being a “bewildered bride” I guess? The alternate first person POV (Ruth’s) and third person (Adam’s) was a bit disconcerting; I never did fully get used to it.
The drama with Adam’s relatives, who were the villains of the story from start to finish was solid, though, and kept me turning the pages to find out just how many evil deeds they were capable of and how and when they would finally get their due. They did not disappoint, either in their villainy or in their comeuppance. 😉
This is the 4th book in the series, but it worked just fine as a standalone. It’s not at all obvious who here might have even been in previous books (Ruth’s sister, maybe?) so going into it not knowing anything about the rest of the series books wasn’t an issue at all for me.
Rating: 3 1/2 stars / C+
I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.
About the author:
Award winning, Amazon Bestselling author, VANESSA RILEY, worked as an engineer before allowing her passion for historical romance to shine. A Regency era (early 1800s) and Jane Austen enthusiast, she brings the flavor of diverse, eclectic peoples to her stories. The author of Madeline’s Protector, Swept Away, Unmasked Heart, The Bargain, and Unveiling Love, she has won the Beacon Award, the Colorado Award of Excellence, and placed in the International Digital Awards for her Regency romances. Vanessa Riley is a historical buff who has spent many years researching Regency society. During her undergraduate studies at Penn State, she gained a love of Western Civilization and took as many classes as she could while pursuing Bachelors and Master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering. Her love of history has given her a passion for conducting precise research in architecture, customs, and rituals of the times. She lives in Atlanta with her career military husband and precocious child. You can catch her writing from the comfort of her southern porch with a cup of Earl Grey tea.
To celebrate the release of THE BEWILDERED BRIDE by Vanessa Riley, we’re giving away for a $25 Amazon gift card!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open internationally. One winner will be chosen to receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Entangled Publishing. Giveaway ends 8/16/2019 @ 11:59pm EST