"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
The oft-quoted first line from Jane Austen's classic 19th century novel Pride and Prejudice forms the premise of this modern-day classic by Catherine Coulter. Douglas Northcliffe, Earl of Sherbrooke, is the single man in want of a wife. Hounded and badgered by importunate relatives, he comes up with a neat solution. He will marry the girl he remembers from a couple of seasons ago - the incredibly beautiful Melissande Chambers. Still single and available, Douglas is convinced that she will be the ideal Countess for him, and in his practical, controlled way he goes about setting up the match. Unfortunately for him, the fates intervene in the shape of an urgent summons from Lord Avery in London - England needs Douglas for a short mission in war-torn France. Seizing a convenient opportunity, he sends his cousin, Lord Anthony Rathmore, to his fiancee's home with instructions to marry the girl by proxy on Douglas' behalf.
A good plan, logical and well thought out. Of course, it is doomed to spectacular failure. Tony Rathmore plunges head over heels in love with Melissande and marries her for himself. That leaves only the younger sister, Alexandra, to fill the shoes of Douglas' bride. When Douglas returns home after a successful mission, he finds to his horror that his beautiful bride is snugly cuddled into his cousin Tony's bed and a strange girl with long red hair is occupying the Countess' suite. Catherine Coulter is an acknowledged master of scenes like these; we can truly sympathize with Douglas' frustration even though we are laughing hysterically at the farcical situation that results!
So Douglas begins the painful process of getting to know his new bride, and Alexandra begins the equally painful process of becoming an unwanted Countess. No one knows that she developed a severe case of heartache for Douglas when she was just fifteen - to be his wife is to have all her dreams answered. Or so she thinks! The process whereby Douglas comes to realize that Alexandra might just be the right wife for him after all is a pleasure to watch; the coolly perfect seduction techniques for which Douglas is renowned give way to a hot, frenzied and lustful passion, much to his astonishment. Alexandra is spirited, intelligent and solidly opinionated, and quite capable of giving as good as she gets, especially in bed!
The adventures these two share, including an unscheduled trip across the channel and the visitation of a ghostly Virgin Bride, cement their relationship, and we rejoice with these two delightful lovers as they overcome the obstacles to their happiness. This is the first novel in Ms. Coulter's Bride series - followed by The Heiress Bride, and most recently, The Scottish Bride. The men of the Sherbrooke family are lusty, masculine and very much "alpha" males, yet when mated to the right woman they easily transition into loving and faithful family men. The thought of taming a scoundrel is appealing to many women, and if you're not convinced it's a good idea, read about the Sherbrookes in the Bride stories - you'll change your mind!