My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
The Highwayman's Bride by Jane Beckenham was my first book by the author. I wanted to read it because, honestly, it was the title. Unfortunately, even though I thought the storyline was pretty good, the writing style was very uneven. Sometimes it was great, sometimes not so much. There were also some frustrating, even unbelievable moments in the story. However, it’d be a lie if I say that I didn’t enjoy it. The story, even with the writing style, had a flow and kept me hooked because it was different.
Tess just escaped her abusive uncle’s house in hopes of a better life. An orphan, Tess’s parents passed away some 8 years ago. Her only close, living relative, Uncle Luther took her in. He not only squandered away whatever money her parents left for her, but also liked bullying her. The guy is an a$$hole and bullying and blustering is all he does best. His own wife, who seemed somewhat vacant to me (and I thought, was a coping mechanism) also has to cope with this on everyday basis. Tess has had enough and now she wants out, otherwise she’d be married off with an old man who is just as gross as Luther. So what does Tess do for a better life? Well, she didn’t do a lot of planning on that regard that for sure. She reads a lot of romance novels and thought to disguise herself as a highwayman and rob a coach or two, then take the money and go somewhere where her uncle won’t find her. Well, this didn’t cast Tess in a very favorable light to me. I thought it was absolutely idiotic. However, I also felt that she was too desperate to do just about anything to escape. On her misadventure as the ‘highwayman’, Tess meets Aiden, our H, who was there on business. He takes a rough tumble while saving Tess’s butt as she was robbing the coach of a wealthy family. I was glad that Aiden saw through Tess’s disguise, because more often than not, authors try to disguise their heroines as male and no one ever seems to know that this is a woman; even when she’s wearing tight breeches.
In the next few pages, some incidents happen in rapid succession. One, on that tumble, Aiden goes blind from a head injury. Tess takes pity and accompanies him to the nearest village to help him get a room in an inn. This is also the time when they both get to know each-other a little. Tess doesn’t tell Aiden a lot, and he doesn’t tell her that he’s an Earl so Tess just assumes that he’s also a highwayman. Aiden sends someone from the inn to contact with his solicitor, so that the man comes and gets him. Tess leaves Aiden thinking her duty here is done. But she returns because she couldn’t go further, Aiden’s injury fresh in her mind. They spend the night in that inn. At daylight though, reality comes crashing in for Tess. Her uncle finds her, at the same time, Aiden’s man is also there. A scene ensues and Luther’s treatment of Tess enrages Aiden. He becomes a little protective because he could very well surmise just what kinda man Luther is. But Tess, seeing no other option, gives her loot from the coach to her uncle as appeasement and decides to leave, resigned to her fate.
Aiden is out for revenge on Florian Nash, an evil man who seduced and married his sister, Mary, took her dowry, abused her and then, left her after she miscarried her baby. At that time, Aiden was married too but had to leave his new wife, whom he thought he was in love with, as a soldier in the war with France. When he returned, Aiden found his life utterly changed. It was not only the war’s brutality but also, finding his wife heavily pregnant with some other man’s baby. Then there was Mary, returned almost broken. Aiden’s wife dies in childbirth, leaving a son and Mary is inconsolable after what had happened to her. After that, Aiden’s sole purpose has been to seek revenge on Nash. Nash is an expert of all things illegal trade. Aiden has been after him for the last 4 yrs. but has failed to catch him so far. Nothing he does, it seems, works and Aiden is becoming more and more frustrated each day. It’s as if he’s so obsessed with this need for revenge that he has made it the center of his life. This is THE reason why Aiden was there on that day when he found Tess doing something idiotic, yet couldn’t help but admire her courage. She has been on his mind ever since, not knowing how their path would cross again soon.
Two months pass by in between. Somehow, Tess escaped that awful marriage but now in London, waiting to attend a ball with her uncle and aunt. The money gotten from selling those things Tess robbed has been the source of this ‘excursion’, if you can call it that. I found it odd that her cruel, greedy uncle would bring her to London to have a season and grab a husband, yet he did. When Tess is waiting for a turn in the ballroom, she decides to go out for fresh air... and stumbles across Aiden talking to someone in private. At the sight of him, Tess is breathless. She has thought of his blonde, handsome features all these months, thinking this is the man she will marry if she has a choice. Aaaand...... Tess’s decision is made. She’d marry on her choice… which is Aiden. But I didn’t like the way she asserted that choice on Aiden; by blackmailing him. I literally said ‘WTF?’ on this development. Moreover, she was still harboring the idea that Aiden is a highwayman, most assuredly a highwayman in disguise if he was invited in a ball like this. So she blackmails him that she’d divulge his ‘great, big secret’ to the world if he doesn’t marry her. Her other demand is, this marriage be kept in name only as she’d like to go her way after it and so can Aiden. Freedom is all she wants. I don’t even know how she could demand this from a man she’d known for barely a day or two.
You might be thinking, could Aiden see again? You bet he did! A little after that incident with Tess, he recovered fully and was doing fine when Tess makes her proposal. Needless to say, Aiden had no intention of marrying again after the burn he got from his deceased wife. But if he’s marrying, indeed, he sure as hell won’t keep it in name only! He kept reminding Tess as such whenever this matter arose in their conversation. I also don’t think if he wasn’t so attracted to Tess, he would’ve given in. Tess never gives Aiden any chance to explain that he’s not what she thinks he is, but it was crucial that no one knows Aiden’s nightly activities aka his hunt for Nash. He simply couldn’t let it pass, not after knowing what kinda people Tess was living with.
It was not until the day of their marriage that Tess finally learns that Aiden is an Earl. She’s annoyed that Aiden kept it from her. *eyeroll* And whose fault was that Tess, hmmm? Surely not his. Note that, she now thinks Aiden is an Earl, who robs people at night as a highwayman in disguise. Eyeroll, anyone? I don’t really know why she kept thinking that going out at night means he’s a highwayman in the first place! She wouldn’t let Aiden touch her, yet when she sees his ex-mistress making insinuations, she becomes jealous of the woman. Good God! She was not only being dumb but also, was forever contradicting herself. Aiden, at first, was just amused… then a little annoyed when she kept prodding at him why he has go out at night. What business does he conduct? He tries his best to veer her attentions elsewhere, namely the slow seduction of his wife… which pays off after some times. The marriage is consummated on Aiden’s demand but don’t think Tess didn’t want him or it. But she didn’t want another man to rule her life, not when she’s asking for freedom. Yet after the consummation, Tess can’t help feeling something for her husband. At first, she’s determined that she’d leave. Then she decides she won’t because duh, sex is so good! Her husband is so handsome! How can she?
Well... moving on.
When they arrive at Aiden’s country-house, Tess falls in love with the place immediately. She also meets Mary, a beautiful blonde girl whose demeanor tells of her suffering. She seems a little vacant, living in her own mind but not entirely imbalanced. Tess also meets Alexander, Aiden’s wife’s son who knows him as his ‘Papa’. But I was a little shocked at how rudely Aiden treated the little boy. I got that Alexander reminded him of her infidelity but how the hell could he be so cold-hearted to such an adorable 4 yrs. old? Tess takes notice of it immediately. She, at first, didn’t know just why Aiden is so rude to the boy. She didn’t even know that he was married once before, for that matter. As I said, Tess had no interest in Aiden’s past but her own ‘freedom’ that would come being married to him. Or so she thought. Well, whatever her point was, now she wants to make it work. Not only she loves her nightly activities with her husband, soon Tess finds that she’s falling in love with the estate, and the people in it.
Tess makes friends with Mary, who it seems, needed female companionship more than anything. Tess also takes great interested in Alexander’s well-being and I couldn’t help but applaud her decision. She soon learns from Mary about the truth of Aiden’s first marriage, but she’s doesn’t cast the child away, rather taking him in, giving him much needed love. After all, none of it was that little boy’s fault. Right now, all Tess wants to make a ‘home’ in here; a word that has eluded her ever since her parents died. She’s still discontent with the fact that her husband still goes out at night. Soon, Aiden tells her everything about Nash and what Mary had suffered because there was no other way. Aiden has come to care for Tess a lot, the last thing he needs right now. He vowed he won’t feel anything for any woman ever but it seems, his wife has gotten inside his skin even without his notice.
There were small misunderstandings between them that kept them apart a few times because while the headstrong Tess would want one thing, Aiden would another. Yet he couldn’t but admire his wife’s tenacity. One of the reasons was Aiden’s younger brother, a dissolute gambler, Jasper, who is squandering away family money. Aiden hates Jasper’s lifestyle, as he’s the one who is left to pick up his brother’s messes. And in return, Jasper has a kind of contempt for Aiden that shocked me, to say the least. From the degree of hostility, Aiden’s jealously whenever Jasper was near Tess and to the mean word-exchange, where Jasper would goad Aiden about his first wife’s infidelity too often for my liking. I mean the guy was off fighting a war FFS, how can Jasper the jerk condemn him for ‘neglecting his wife’, I have NO idea. For a while, it gave me an impression that Jasper might be Alexander’s father, or at the least, took the invitation that was so obviously thrown his way by that woman. Nothing was confirmed though and I later thought maybe Jasper was just being mean and nothing else. I wasn’t happy when Tess took Jasper’s side in this, making Aiden look the guilty party. She’d also take Alexander’s side (which I supported) if Aiden was being rude to him. But overall, it did feel that she was trying to torture Aiden for some reason because her decision would always hurt him. Well dude, you are also not entirely blameless. Your rash judgment had too caused me many a frustrating moments in the story.
At this point, Aiden goes on a hunt for Nash at night. He said he’d be gone for some days, leaving Tess a little bereaved. It seems like her marriage is doomed to be a mixed baggage. Today, she’s so happy with Aiden she can’t even think of anything else but him, yet the next day, they’d have some problem over something, and they’d be apart. It’s so volatile that Tess feels restless. And when she’s restless, she likes walking. At one of her walks she comes across this ancient looking witch. This old woman forewarns Tess about some coming catastrophe and some vague words about love and loyalty. Aiden only laughed at this, saying the woman is batty. But when the news comes that Aiden might be in danger, Tess has to take sudden decision. I couldn’t believe that there weren’t a single man on that big estate to accompany her when she decides to leave in her man’s clothing, in the middle of the night, to alert Aiden of a coming danger. Even Jasper was conveniently, but not unexpectedly, indisposed. It was way too unbelievable for me.
It was another night of illegal trade for Nash and Aiden was lying in wait to catch the man in action. But the lawmen were on their way and Aiden could’ve gotten caught with Nash and his cronies. Tess had to do something to alert Aiden, which she does. But in turn, Nash is also alerted and escapes Aiden again. Though Tess returns home before Aiden and decides to act as if nothing has happened, she feels guilty; not only for her disguise but also finding out that her uncle is in league with Nash, a fact Aiden already knew. After learning Mary’s predicament, Tess confided in Aiden about knowing Nash, as least his face (because obviously his name was fake) when she saw him with her uncle before her marriage. This had somewhat made Aiden suspicious of Tess and he’d forever been hovering between completely trusting her and thinking that she just might be in league with her uncle as well. When he returns home, Aiden was sure he’d find some evidence of Tess’s treachery. Instead, he finds her waiting for him in bed. They spend the night making love and Aiden decides he was obviously wrong.
But the next day, I felt the apprehension of something bad coming their way. Yet once again when they seemed content with their marriage, things go wrong. A letter written to Tess’s aunt falls into Aiden’s hand, where she made some vague statements about her uncle so that he doesn’t visit them. Whereas Tess meant something entirely different, Aiden took it as the proof of Tess’s betrayal. And once again, he lets his emotion lead him, rather than his brain, condemning Tess and asking her to leave at once. To think they spend the whole night making love! *sigh* When I was finally becoming fond of her...... Aiden also speaks harshly to Alexander. They were just creating this fragile bond together, thanks to his wife, he goes and ruins it. Oh it was a rather big mess. Tess is very hurt, then goes out to take a walk to calm herself down and to decide what to do next. I could feel her turmoil, Aiden’s too, and despaired a little of the fact that they never seem to have a steady marriage when they both secretly craved it.
After this altercation, a letter written by Jasper comes to Aiden, in which he asks Aiden to go to this remotest area and save his a$$ from some mess he created with Nash. Once again. Aiden is resigned but feels that this is his time to catch the criminal and punish him. He leaves pronto but before that, he makes amend with Alexander. You’ll just feel the kind of adoration the little boy had for his father. I felt this need to hug him every time he was crying in the story. When Aiden finally leaves, he leaves with the regret of not being able to apologize to his wife because when he had finally settled down after she departed for her walk, Aiden saw the wrong in his logic. He knew in his guts that Tess would never betray him, and yet, he had condemned her. But there was no time to squander so he asks his butler to tell Tess to wait for him. He demands that the man not let her leave.
Though, throughout the story, these misunderstandings kept occurring, I loved that the author didn’t drag those on, creating a dumb ‘big mis’ between the lead characters. Tess and Aiden saw their faults pretty easily. They always were eager to work things out, which spelled ‘love’ to me big time. When Tess returns home, she had no intention of leaving but giving her husband a good ‘what for’ instead. This place has become her home. She seeks solace in Alexander and Mary’s companionship. But on the walk, she had seen the witch again and has had another foretelling, which had a premonition twisting in her guts. Then, she learns of Aiden’s departure.
However, when later on that day, Jasper comes in all blooded and bruised, Tess realizes things aren’t going to be as easy for them. Nash forced Jasper to write that letter to lure Aiden away because, duh, he owned a big chunk of money to Jasper. Tess knew she has to take the responsibility to save her husband once again. Yes, she runs out in a horribly cold weather, in her disguise, following Aiden’s trail, her only thought to save the love of her life. I found it superbly unbelievable just how easy it was for her to get there, if not foolhardy. Yet I could only appreciate her courage and her will. Tess has been stubborn throughout, a trait that gave her the boost she needed, even when the ferryman didn’t want to cross her to her destination because the river had froze. She walked across the river, knowing she might not live, just to reach Aiden.
The ending was kinda sweet. I already said, the author was successful in keeping me hooked, to know what’s going to happen next. I’m very interested in Mary’s and Jasper’s stories. This book indicated as much; Mary finally moving on, already having a crush on a Duke and Jasper going leaving for America in hopes of proving himself worthy. Looking forward to those. 3.75 stars.
This ARC was provided to me by Entangled Publishing LLC/Scandalous via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.