To Wed a Stranger by Edith Layton
ISBN: 0060502177 Avon
An arranged marriage for London's most desired lady? Is it possible? The breathtaking Lady Annabelle has actually agreed to marry, sight unseen, a gentleman of her father's choosing -- the self-proclaimed "exceptionally average" Miles Croft. The ton is aghast! After scandalously toying with so many hearts, why is the exquisite Annabelle chaining herself to the new Viscount Pelham, a complete - albeit most attractive - stranger? Could it be that her own heart has been irreparably shattered, and she wants nothing more to do with romance?
Yet there is nothing "average" about their weding night! There is magic in Mile's touch, and the smoldering ecstasy it ignites threatens to consume them both. Dare Anabelle dream this is the one passionate and enduring love she ached for in secret, but never dreamed she'd be worthy of? Might this tender, mysterious lover truly be the scarlet lady's redemption - and could she be Miles's as well?
From the Critics
...an emotionally compelling love story.
Beautiful, titled, totally desirable, but practically "on the shelf" at 27, Lady Annabelle Wylde has had many flirtations but has never found love. Nevertheless, she knows she must wed; resigned to a loveless relationship, she dutifully agrees to an arranged marriage with Miles Croft, Viscount Pelham, a man she hardly knows. Disaster strikes on the couple's honeymoon as virulent influenza robs Annabelle of her beauty and vitality, and their relationship takes on a deeper dimension as they learn to know each other and discover what is really important to them. A charming, emotionally intense story that beautifully addresses the issues of self-worth and the true meaning of love, this novel will appeal to readers who like their historicals intelligent, thought-provoking, and thoroughly romantic. A number of characters have links to Layton's previous books, including Annabelle herself, who appeared in The Chance as a rather spiteful "other woman."
Desert Island Keeper - All About Romance
Although To Wed A Stranger is a sequel of sorts to Edith Layton's "C" series, it's not necessary to have read those books to thoroughly enjoy this one, nor does Layton lazily repeat the action in the previous stories to propel the action of this one along. Edith Layton is one of my favorite Regency/Historical Regency authors because she portrays poignant anguish so well. The story of Lady Annabelle Wylde and Lord Miles Croft is slight in plot, but overloaded in emotional resonance, and features writing as fine as Layton has ever done.
Lady Annabelle is the dark beauty from the "C" books, a woman who has set her cap at - and been rejected by - some of the most eligible bachelors in the ton. Annabelle is twenty-seven years old, long past the age most women of her time marry, and she has agreed to a marriage of convenience. Miles Croft, an ex-sailor who made his fortune at sea and returned to England as the new Viscount Pelham, is affable, charming, and handsome (but not devastatingly so) and a complete stranger to Annabelle on their wedding day.
Miles needs to be married, too, and quickly. His mother, a now faded beauty, made a disastrous choice in her second husband, a blackguard who ruined her name and whose legacy (he is deceased) may ruin the chances of Miles's sister to make an eligible match if someone of impeccable ton does not guide them through Society's turbulent waters. Then there's Miles's young and wayward brother, who could easily be led astray if Miles is not there to assist him. Miles has decided he must marry a woman who will be able to stand firm against Society's potential condemnation, and he has seen Annabelle do just that as the gossip grew regarding her unmarried state.
Annabelle has always taken her beauty for granted; she is accustomed to men drooling over her and women envying her. She is baffled, as well as bruised, by her respective romantic disappointments, and figures that marrying someone - anyone, almost - is better than never marrying at all. She hasn't looked beyond her wedding day, however, so her wedding night comes as something of a surprise. It begins well, but ends disastrously, compounded by Annabelle taking ill the following day. In fact, she becomes so ill that her hair must be shorn and she loses her looks, something that is potentially devastating to such a proud (if not vain) woman.
Miles, meanwhile, takes devoted care of her during her illness, but tortures himself with the realization that they might have made a terrible mistake in marrying without really knowing each other. He feels incredibly guilty about their wedding night and is determined that if she lives, he will try to make their future palatable to both of them. His emotional state is described in truly complex, real terms; a lot of romances would have the hero fall in love with the unconscious woman under his care, but Miles admits to himself that he does not love her, although he seriously lusts after her. As she slowly recovers, he still cannot bring himself to have sexual relations with her, since she is so fragile she reminds him of a child, something that repels him.
Annabelle makes slow progress back to health, and Miles is there to help her, encouraging her when she falters, trying to learn more about her so they are no longer strangers, and admiring her courage just as he did when she was the beautiful Lady Annabelle facing nasty gossip. Gradually, they resume a normal relationship and he realizes he is in love with her, a fact that tears him apart since he assumes she still wants only a marriage of convenience, especially as she regains her looks and place in society.
People being actually more or less than their looks might suggest is a theme that is repeated throughout the book. Miles's sister, for instance, is a large, florid girl who is nonetheless more sought after than more attractive debutantes because of her open character. Miles's mother is a bitter, plaintive woman now that she is no longer beautiful. Annabelle can only realize her own strength of character after she loses her looks, and as for her and Miles as a couple, they can only fall in love when he falls in love with the woman behind the beauty and she recognizes his own beautiful character.
The author sets up an impediment to their natural progress to admitting their love for each other. It's a slightly contrived situation that seemed forced. Thankfully this wasn't a Big Misunderstanding that could have been cleared up in a short conversation, but it's enough of a flaw that its DIK status was questionable. But Layton's honest depiction of human frailty and her way with a poignant situation is so touching and beautiful to read that To Wed a Stranger ultimately deserves DIK status. It wasn't hard to fall in love with Miles and admire Annabell's courage. Understanding and knowing each other as they do at the end of the book and predicting a happy future for them is just as easy.
Old Book Barn Gazette
A famous society beauty, Lady Annabelle's lack of success in the marriage mart is causing society to speculate on her inability to a catch a husband. Over the past seasons, she's suffered rejection from three prominent noblemen. Annabelle can no longer tolerate the ton's pitying whispers and mocking tones. A proud woman, Annabelle becomes more brittle and waspish with each rejection. In response, she accepts an offer of marriage from a stranger to remove the stigma of rejection.
Returning to England after years at sea, Miles, Viscount Pelham, needs prestige and influence to counter the scandal caused by his mother's impulsive marriage to a scoundrel and criminal. Alliance with the fashionable Annabelle is an expedient way to attain his goal. A practical and realistic man, Miles believes he doesn't need love in his marriage-of-convenience. Circumstances quickly prove him wrong.
Twenty- four hours after their marriage, Annabelle contracts influenza. Guilt and duty keep Miles at her side as he nurses her at their isolated honeymoon lodge. Watching her struggle for her life, Miles realizes his terrible mistake of marrying without love or even friendship.
Annabelle survives, but at a terrible cost. Her beauty is gone. The medical treatment included shaving her glorious hair and bleedings leaving her voluptuous figure gaunt and skeletal. Annabelle's courage and Miles' patience and charm transform a marriage-of-convenience into a love-match. But fate has a tendency to thwart Annabelle and, once again, she must overcome the odds to find happiness.
Annabelle, a secondary character in Ms. Layton's previous Regency series, receives an exquisite love story. Readers will need plenty of tissues as they watch the proud and occasionally selfish Annabelle, stripped of her beauty, emerge into a truly beautiful woman. Superb - I can't say enough about this book. It's excellent!
© 2005 Edith Layton. All rights reserved.