This is a multi-layered story that can be read on so many levels. (I consider this Sherry Thomas's Inception -- without the special effects.)
Layer 1: Lord and Lady Larkspear (The story as is)
The story begins on Lord and Lady Larkspear's wedding night and, from what is said, the lady is less than willing.
Lady Larkspear's reputation has been ruined by another man but it is Lord Larkspear who saves her with marriage. Our hero and heroine have known each other since childhood and have had an adversarial relationship. Lord Larkspear often teased and taunted his lady, so it is understood that Lady Larkspear is wary of him.
Now they are married and Lord Larkspear is painfully aware that he is not first (or second, or third) in his wife's affections. But the lord is determined to win his lady's heart and he launches a campaign both in and out of bed.
The story is told from Lord Larkspear's point of view. He has been in love with Lady Larkspear forever but has never shown her or told her.
The pain in my heart is an old one: the fear that my unrequited love will always remain unrequited. That whatever I do, I will not break through this wall of ice between us that I have helped build with my words and my actions all these years.
- p. 19
It is rare for romance readers to see the hero's point of view, especially one who suffers from unrequited love. In The Bride of Larkspear, we read the anguish and regret of Lord Larkspear for his past actions and we see his uncertainty as he deals with his new wife.
There is a power struggle in the story and, while it seems it is Lady Larkspear who is held captive and bound, it is really she who is in control of their relationship.
"...The law deems my body to belong to you, but my mind is my own, and I shall only think those thoughts that best please me."
- p. 23
This is a very intense emotional exploration of the extreme ends of the spectrum of human experience: love and hate, doubt and certainty, pain and pleasure --
Layer 2: David Hillsborough and Helena Fitzhugh (As story within a story)
Read as is, The Bride of Larkspear is a wonderful (and complete) story in itself and showcases Sherry Thomas's awesome talent. But, as mentioned in the preface of the novella, this is the erotic story that David Hillsborough has written for Helena Fitzhugh, which he is asking her to publish.
Read from that perspective, this is a privileged look into David's soul and the first-person POV makes this read almost like a diary. But it is not a diary of events that have happened but of events that David hopes to happen.
This is David's wish fulfillment and, in it, we see his terrible yearning for Helena. He is Lord Larkspear and he knows that this is his and Helena's inevitable future. In the previous two Fitzhugh books, we know that Helena is involved in an illicit love affair. It is known with whom -- but not the extent of the relationship. It seems that everyone is assuming the worst of it. (Including David.)
But will their future be like their present? Full of hostility and suspicion? Or will David and Helena be able to work it out and build something better for themselves?
There is a lot of regret in the story. A lot of David's regret. A lot of things that he should have told her a long time ago but never found the courage to do so.
Why, in the name of God, have I never before spoken to her like this, with simple human respect and interest? It is not arduous. It is not even difficult.
- p. 54
But there is also hope in the story. And there is one man's willingness to lay himself on the line, surrender his pride and bare his heart for the sake of love.
David and Helena's story is an important thread that runs through Beguiling the Beauty and Ravishing the Heiress. We have been teased about the nature of their relationship -- and teased further because of this e-novella.
I think David is set to become one of my all-time favorite heroes ever and I am very, very excited to read their story, Tempting the Bride.
Not a Layer: Sherry Thomas as not-Sherry Thomas
This is Sherry Thomas writing as Sherry Thomas has never done before. Readers should heed the subtitle: A Fitzhugh Trilogy Erotic Novella because, yes, this is an erotic novella. I found myself flipping back to the front cover to make sure that I was reading the correct book by Sherry Thomas!
But it is not Sherry Thomas who "wrote" this -- even the title cover says it was written by A Gentleman of Indiscretion. It is amazing how clearly Thomas channels David's voice and his ferocity in this story and shows how well she understands her character.
And, once again, Sherry Thomas leaves me breathless... and I will leave it at that. ^_^
Final note: Tucked nicely inside The Bride of Larkspear story is another story about the country of Pride and the prince of the realm. I thought my heart was going to burst as Lord Larkspear was about to tell the story.
Until now, I have been dropping hints of my sentiments for her. Fairly broad hints at times, but still, hints that can be plausibly denied. Once I tell this story, however, everything will be laid bare and there will be no going back.
- p. 75
Tempting the Bride is out today, October 2.
To find out more about Sherry Thomas and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facebook.