Gwendolyn Adams is about to propose to an earl. On his deathbed.
Gwendolyn Adams isn’t shocked at being asked to save a handsome earl’s dying line, even when she learns the prospective bridegroom is seriously ill and possibly insane. She’s quite a good nurse, after all, and her family is famous for producing healthy male children. Those stories about his riding the moors half-naked on a pale white horse? Extremely intriguing—especially after she gets her first look at the gorgeous lunatic.
The Earl of Rawnsley wants only to lose what’s left of his mind in peace and privacy. But his busybody relatives have saddled him with a surprise bride and orders to sire an heir forthwith. (And they say he’s mad?) But with Gwendolyn, his health is returning, and his resistance … crumbling. Is it possible that love is the finest madness of all?
Originally appeared in the print anthology Three Weddings and a Kiss (1995).
I’ve said before that it takes a truly gifted author to turn out a novella which gives the reader the same degree of satisfaction upon finishing as can be found on the completion of a full-length novel, and I suppose the fact that this one is by Loretta Chase should be recommendation enough.
At the age of twenty-seven, Dorian Camoys, the Earl of Rawnsley is dying, plagued by the same illness that killed his mother. She died alone, in an asylum for the insane, and Dorian expects that before long, he will begin to exhibit the symptoms of madness. He already suffers from the blinding headaches and visual flashes that she endured, and knows he doesn’t have long left.
His remaining relatives, however, are concerned for the title and have decided that Dorien should marry and beget an heir while he is still able to. The duc d’Abbonville, the head of the French branch of the Camoys family – and who is also the fiancé of the redoubtable Genevieve, Jessica Trent’s grandmother – believes he can persuade Dorian to do his duty by the title, and has already selected him a bride, Miss Gwendolyn Adams, who is another of Genevieve’s granddaughters.
Like both her grandmother and her cousin Jessica, Gwendolyn is a very formidable young woman. She is passionately interested in the medical sciences but as this is a time when formal training was not possible for a woman, she has to content herself with studying on her own. Marrying the Earl of Rawnsley will give her the funds and influence to enable her to build and run a new hospital, and it’s that which is her primary motivation for agreeing to the duc’s proposal – well, that, and the opportunity to perhaps help Dorian and gain some insight into his illness.
Despite his initial reluctance, Dorian agrees to the marriage, and even though he is determined to maintain a distance from his bride, Gwen won’t let him, encouraging him to talk about his illness and conducting her own researches into the nature of it. To his surprise, she treats him as a normal, sane and intelligent individual, and one, moreover, who makes her melt into a puddle of lust:
“I wish you could see the way you look at me.”
“Like a lovesick schoolgirl, you mean?” she asked.
“Well, what do you expect? You are shockingly handsome.”
He leaned forward, his eyes narrowed. “I have a brain disease. My mind is crumbling to pieces! And in a few months I shall be a rotting corpse!”
After which, she basically pats him on the cheek, says “there, there, dear, never mind” and changes the subject.
I suspect that most readers will be able to work out what is actually wrong with Dorian before Gwen does, but she is working without the benefit of current medical knowledge, and one of the things that keeps the reader hooked is wondering when Dorian will realise that he doesn’t have one foot in the grave after all.
Both Dorian and Gwendolyn are likeable, well-drawn characters, their relationship is beautifully developed and their interactions are by turns funny, tender, sexy and heart-rending. Dorian’s desire not to be pitied and to have control over his life for as long as he can is poignant and quite understandable, and I loved the way he encourages Gwen in her studies. The Mad Earl’s Bride is a fabulous read and one I heartily recommend if you’re looking for a quick romance fix!