Lord Leo Byron is bored with the aristocratic company he keeps; he needs a distraction, preferably in the form of a beautiful new female companion. So when he sets eyes on fascinating and scandalous divorcée Lady Thalia Lennox, he’s determined to make her intimate acquaintance. But the spirited woman seems to have no intention of accepting his advances no matter how much he chases—or how hard he falls….
Once a darling of Society, Thalia Lennox now lives on its fringes. The cruel lies that gave her a notoriously wild reputation have also left her with a broken heart and led to a solemn vow to swear off men. Still, Leo Byron’s bold overtures are deliciously tempting, and, for the first time, she finds herself wondering whether it just might be worth the risk to let the attractive rake into her life—and her bed….
There are a couple of things about The Bedding Proposal which immediately mark it as something “a bit different” in terms of an historical romance. Firstly, the heroine is seven years older than the hero (he’s twenty-five, she’s thirty-two) and secondly – and most importantly – the heroine is a divorcée, something very rarely found within the genre.
Divorce wasn’t impossible at the time the book is set, although it was very close to being so. It was expensive, incredibly difficult and required a lot of influence in the right circles; and once accomplished, the fact of being divorced had a deleterious effect on both parties involved. Given this is the nineteenth century, a time when the slightest rumour of impropriety could ruin a woman’s reputation, it was the divorced woman – naturally – who suffered most.
Tracy Anne Warren really brings this inequality home during the course of her story. Lady Thalia Lennox was ignominiously divorced by her husband, Lord Kemp, six years earlier and was thrown out of their home with nothing but the clothes on her back. Had it not been for the house bequeathed her by her grandmother and the kindness of some of her former servants who managed to smuggle a few of her clothes and possessions from the house, she would have been utterly destitute.
Now she lives on the very fringes of society, shunned by almost everyone. Even her two closest friends cannot have much contact with her because their husbands dislike their wives associating with a woman of Thalia’s tattered reputation, and she lives quietly, rarely going out and barely managing to make ends meet.
As a young debutante, Thalia had everything to look forward to in life, but the actions of a selfish, vindictive man took away all those early prospects of comfort and happiness. Her life was destroyed along with her reputation, and although society gossip continues to paint her as a woman of loose morals with a string of lovers, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Lord Leo Byron, on the other hand, has everything. Good looks, wealth, a loving family and a sharp intelligence he prefers to hide behind an outward show of rakish bonhomie. Catching a glimpse of Lady Thalia at one of the very rare gatherings she attends, he is struck by her beauty and knowing of her scandalous reputation immediately determines to seduce her. His twin brother, Lawrence, warns him not to be too sure of success, but Leo laughs off his concern, confident that his physical attractions and charm will get him what he wants.
Lawrence’s warning proves to be an astute one, as Thalia rebuffs Leo’s advances in no uncertain terms – but he’s a determined young man and refuses to take “no” for an answer. He continues to pursue her in spite of her repeated requests that he not do so, until the scheme she devises in order to rid herself of him once and for all backfires and leads to his being injured.
Never one to miss an opportunity, Leo uses Thalia’s guilt over his situation to get her to agree to spend a couple of weeks getting to know him. If, at the end of that time, she still wants nothing to do with him, he will leave her alone, but if not… well, he hopes that by the end of their two weeks she will have succumbed to his charms and they will be enjoying many a romp between the sheets so there will be no “if not” for him to worry about.
The first part of the book is fairly light-hearted with Leo blithely ignoring Thalia’s wishes as he tries to overcome her resistance and get her into bed. This doesn’t make him a particularly attractive hero at this point – his over-confidence is irritating and his insistence on his pursuit in the face of the lady’s wishes to the contrary has the potential to be rather disturbing. The fact that Thalia is – albeit reluctantly – attracted to him and he knows it is no excuse for his behaviour. However as the story progresses, he does show himself to have some redeeming qualities, not least of which are his self-awareness, perceptiveness and his protective instincts. And he does learn from his mistakes and grow as a character – he isn’t the same man at the end of the book as he is at the beginning.
But Ms Warren never lets the reader lose sight of the fact that Thalia’s situation is an incredibly difficult and unpleasant one. Her reputation is in tatters, she is the subject of unpleasant gossip and money is tight – all she has left is her dignity. By giving in to her attraction to Leo she will become what the gossips say she already is – yet as they say such things of her anyway, why shouldn’t she at least allow herself the comfort and pleasure to be found in a man’s arms?
The relationship between the couple is very well-written; they have sizzling chemistry and the author does an excellent job of showing that the strong physical attraction between them is deepening and turning into something more. Even before they become lovers, Leo has realised that Thalia is not at all the promiscuous woman rumour has painted her, and he asks to know the truth of her situation. One of the things I really appreciated about them as a couple was the fact that they are honest with each other, so that when Leo asks that difficult question, Thalia tells him everything. Her story is difficult for her to tell and truly heart-breaking for the reader to read, but there is no sugar-coating the brutality she endured at the hands of the man who was supposed to care for her.
The Bedding Proposal is a surprisingly “grown-up” romance with darker undertones than are usually found in the genre. Leo and Thalia are fully rounded-out characters, and it’s a tribute to Ms Warren’s writing that even when Leo is at his most annoying, he still manages to be an engaging character, one I found myself rooting for even as I was wishing he’d grow up a bit! Thalia’s story is tragic, and one I suspect is not too far removed from the sort of thing endured by women in her position at this time in history. Yet she refuses to be completely destroyed by her experience and the quiet dignity of her character, her intense loneliness and her longing for affection and companionship – things to which everyone is entitled but which have been denied her – shine through on every page.
It’s an intense and compelling read – I read it in a couple of sessions – and one I can definitely recommend to anyone who is looking for an historical romance with depth and a couple who has much to endure before achieving their HEA. My one complaint is that the ending is a little too pat – a situation arises as the result of Thalia’s divorce that makes her relationship with Leo almost impossible to continue – and Ms Warren’s solution smacks too much of the Deus ex Machina for my taste. But that is the only complaint I have to make about the book, and as it happens in the last few pages, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the rest of the story.
The Bedding Proposal is a very strong start to Ms Warren’s new series and I’m looking forward to the next installment.