At the beginning of Barely a Bride by Rebecca Hagan Lee, three young boys take a blood oath as members of the Free Fellows League. They will marry only when forced into it, they will marry only for their families’ sakes (i.e., to procure an heir), they will fight for crown and country when needed and they will not, under any circumstances, love their wives. These are but four of the ten points of the pact they signed when they were nine and ten years of age. However, the dictums of the document stay with them well into adulthood. This book describes the first of the three to break the pact.
Griffin, the sixteenth Viscount Abernathy, is going off to war. His talent lies in riding, so he chooses the cavalry. When his father calls him to a meeting two weeks before departure, Griffin is told that either he marries and begets an heir before leaving, or his commission will be rescinded. Lord Weymouth is unhappy enough that his only son and heir is going to Spain to fight, but to join the cavalry? The rate of death in the cavalry is extraordinary. Unhappily, Griffin sets out to find an appropriate wife.
Lady Alyssa is a woman who knows she must be married, but doesn’t want the trappings that come with being a Duchess, the lofty title her mother has in mind for her. She wants the chance to design a garden and escape the duties of a high ranking member of the ton. Being the wife of a viscount will suit her perfectly. The fact that the viscount in question will be in the country only a short time after the wedding, and has a neglected country estate that she can refurbish, suits her even better.
Little did she suspect that she would actually fall in love with her husband before he leaves for Spain. Little did either of them suspect that Griffin would return the sentiment.
The story of how these two negotiate the marriage contract and get together is fun, and the journey toward consummation is even more fun. But beyond the usual sequence of events in a romance novel is how tenderly Ms. Lee describes the love that continues to develop, through their letters.
Rebecca Hagan Lee describes well the horror of war and how it affects not only a person but a relationship. And yet she brings Griffin and Alyssa together in a way that is totally believable. I liked not only the main characters, but the supporting characters, including Griffin’s comrades in the Free Fellows League, and his parents.
The only thing that gave me pause was the totally free attitude of Alyssa regarding sex and the somewhat high-handed attitude of Griffin toward Alyssa's mother. Both seemed out of character to me, but did not distract from the story. The twist Ms. Lee incorporates at the end is a surprise.
This is a book any Regency romance lover would enjoy. A well-written easy read, with good characters, I recommend Barely a Bride.