The Penniless Bride of the title is Christy Daventry, but we meet her as the put-upon sister of a ne'er-do-well, selfish jerk, while she is being evicted from her home in Bristol, which said jerk has sold to pay his debts. Saving her from being tossed out on the street is Julian Trentham, Viscount Braybrook who offers Christy a position as governess/companion to his family.
Julian is close to his invalid step-mother and his half-siblings and it is his impressionable 17 year old sister, Lissy, who brings him to Bristol. She imagines herself in love with Harry Daventry, a poor, private secretary to a Lord. It is while in investigating Harry to see if he's a fortune hunter that Julian finds Christy. He is moved by her plight, but also sees how she can be very useful in his household: she can be a companion to his stepmother, an occasional governess to his very young brother, but, most importantly, she can act as an example to the flighty Lissy who imagines she can live on love. Christy's situation, her obvious poverty and need for employment, are a powerful wakeup call to a girl who's never had to think about money before.
Julian and Christy share a powerful attraction, and it isn't long before Julian asks her to be his mistress. She staunchly refuses, for she and her brother are products of a duke's affair with his mistress. Christy will never put a child of hers through what she experienced. As the title implies, Julian and Christy will marry, but have to reconcile their prejudices while keeping an eye on Lissy and Harry.
Julian and Christy are kind of prickly characters, both very guarded and burdened by responsibilities. They are both most at ease and find themselves admiring each other initially through their interactions with Julian's family. Rolls has created a nice family here and the dynamics are interesting. Especially appealing is Julian's stepmother Serena, who quickly sees which way the wind is blowing between Julian and Christy and quietly does what she can to promote the romance, while she is engaging in a second-chance romance of her own.
The villains of the piece are a bit too obvious and Snidely Whiplash-y for my taste, but overall, Lord Braybrook's Penniless Bride is an entertaining and enjoyable read, with a nice Traditional Regency feel to it.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, May 21, 2009