Lady Eleanor has been married by proxy. In a male-dominated century (when has it ever not been?!), Eleanor learned, over the years, the politics of men and kings and how to get around them without losing her optimism for life in general. Determined to make the life for herself that she wants, she took hold of Faulkhurst after her unseen husband has been proclaimed dead and King Edward granted Eleanor, as the widow of William Nicholas Bayard, the deserted ruins of her husbands’ estate. Ruined by the plague, the villagers had either perished or abandoned the pestilence ridden town.
But Eleanor had seen the worst of the plague on her way to Faulkhurst and did her best to help when possible. Her family had succumbed to the sickness and she had no one except three individuals – a little girl, a young lady and an ex-highwayman – whom she picked up along the way and decided to call family. Injecting patience, humor, and dignity to their plight, Eleanor radiates hope to everyone she meets. She likes everyone – outlaws, felons, women of ill-repute – who are willing to change their ways… all except for her now deceased husband, who she curses with each breath for he never sent for her in the four years of their misbegotten marriage.
The dark, brooding stranger that she “found” in her new home, however, stirs her senses like no other. Thinking that he’s another victim of the plague who chose to inhabit a deserted manor, she accepts him as his new steward, never thinking that it might actually be her husband (who chose not to reveal himself as such) in the flesh.
Linda Needham writes wonderful sexual tension between Eleanor and Nicholas. Granted, it was a bit dramatic and over the top in the beginning when Nicholas was introduced, nevertheless, it emphasized Nicholas’ tortured soul and the consequences of the plague. Moreover, Eleanor is excessively likeable and dominates the mood with her Pollyanna ways, infusing hope after so much death. Eleanor is not only nice, but smart about her optimism and trust – she is also fun and daring! And after falling in love with Nicholas the steward, she’s endearingly brazen in her attempts to seduce him! What makes Eleanor so appealing is the fact that she knows what she wants and makes no qualms about trying to get it – she’s no shy miss and when she fails, whether it be concerning household management decisions or the seduction of Nicholas, she gets up and tries again! And regardless of her dislike against her husband, she knew that if he had only sent for her and carefully bedded her, she would have liked sex very much!!
Nicholas is likewise appealing – possessive and in constant lust with Eleanor (who riles him by little touches here and there!), it’s obvious even to Eleanor that he’s not the usual retiring steward. He’s just grand – with his brooding demeanor and guilt ridden conscience, he’s a hero ready to be loved - a hero that any and every woman sighs over…. [sigh]
If you liked Claudia Dain’s The Marriage Bed, The Maiden Bride is equally good in my opinion and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to every romance reader!