Although I think others in the family besides Mirabella know that Mirabella's friend Sarah committed suicide, only Mirabella knows that she didn't do it out of despair at the thought of being a spinster all her life. No, Sarah committed suicide because some cad who had no intention of marrying her got her pregnant. Now Mirabella is determined to find that man and keep him from seducing other women, even if it means ruining her own reputation.
All she knows about him is that he's shorter than most men, has a scar on his neck, and danced with Sarah. Fortunately, Mirabella still has Sarah's dance cards. Unfortunately, most men have their necks hidden by neckcloths. The best way Mirabella can think of to check them is to find a moment alone with them, get them to kiss her, and then stick her fingers under their neckcloths while they're distracted by the kiss. The rumor mill seems to be a bit slow, so Mirabella's reputation may make it through the Season, but then something horrible happens...Mirabella's fiance comes back.
Catching his fiancee kissing another man seems, to Camden, to be as good a reason as any to call his marriage off. Since his last fiancee was caught doing the very same thing, he might even be better off not marrying at all. However, his family, nearly ruined by his father's gambling debts, really needs Mirabella's dowry, so Camden sets his teeth, swallows his pride, and asks Mirabella to at least pretend to be his fiancee for a while longer. At first, Mirabella refuses, much to Camden's shock. With her reputation close to being ruined, why wouldn't she agree to marry someone? Mirabella eventually relents, however, out of worry over her father's fragile health.
Although Mirabella doesn't continue kissing men in order to check under their neckcloths, she does do other outlandish things, like pretending to be a maid and even a man, in order to continue her quest for the man whose actions led to Sarah's death. Because she refuses to tell Camden why she's doing what she's doing, out of fear that he'll tell her to stop, Camden is convinced that, as much as he enjoys Mirabella's company and is attracted by her, she's entirely the wrong sort of woman to marry. Even if Mirabella does find the man who seduced Sarah, will her efforts ruin her chance at finding happiness with Camden?
The best thing I can say about this book was that it was very readable – I got through it fairly quickly. However, it was definitely not the book for me, for several reasons.
One of those reasons was Mirabella. I hated Mirabella. I hated her for not thinking things through, for not seeing all the possible consequences of her actions, and for abusing the power she had over her maid. She didn't care what happened to her reputation, but she worried that it would affect her father's health if he heard what she had been doing. And yet she kept on kissing men anyway, and didn't stop until after Camden came back. Even after Camden came back, she continued to do things that could have ruined her reputation and would have upset her father. Who made sure things didn't go hideously wrong? Camden. He got her out of the club before anyone realized there was a woman dressed as a man among them, and he hushed up anyone he found out had kissed her.
Was that reason enough to confide to Camden why she did what she did? No. Did starting to fall in love with him lead to a greater feeling of trust in him? No, or at least that was the impression I got based on her actions. Had Mirabella worried about telling Camden about Sarah's suicide because suicide is a sin (we're talking about a Regency romance here, after all), then I might have been a bit more sympathetic, but the thought never even crossed her mind. The one reason she used, over and over, to justify not telling Camden was that he would make her stop looking for the man.
I'd have thought that a man worth falling in love with would be worth trusting a bit more, but apparently that's not the case. At the very least, I'd have thought it would have occurred to Mirabella that a man would have an easier time getting to see another man's bare neck. When the thought did finally occur to her, she didn't approach Camden, an actual man, for help, but rather dressed herself up as a man. I found myself wishing someone would catch her, since I seriously doubted she could pretend to be a man so well, so easily.
And, by the way, she didn't dress herself as a man on her own. No, she got her maid Lily to help her, even going to far as to convince Lily to sneak some of her father's clothes into her room. Mirabella also got Lily to help her dress as a maid, implying that she might dismiss Lily if she didn't help. When Lily brought up the perfectly understandable worry that Mirabella's father might dismiss her if he found out what she'd helped his daughter do, Mirabella assured her that her father would never do such a thing and that she'd see to it nothing happened to her. Yeah, right. Mirabella's complete lack of knowledge about the realities of Lily's life was probably realistic (although it made Mirabella's ability to convincingly pretend to be a maid, even just for a few hours, even harder to believe), but that didn't make me hate her any less. Besides, why worry about realism in a book where the hero and heroine spend quite a bit of time alone and unchaperoned?
I shouldn't limit my complaints to just Mirabella, however – Camden inspired a few himself. After what he went through with his first fiancee, I could understand why he didn't want to marry Mirabella after catching her kissing another man. It's not like Mirabella and Camden even knew each other all that well to begin with, so there wasn't much of an emotional attachment to break off. Okay, so I ground my teeth a little at the idea that Camden could kiss a few women while he was engaged to Mirabella and Mirabella was expected not to do the same, but, hey, it's a Regency romance. What really got to me was Camden's reaction when Mirabella started musing that she might make a good mistress.
Camden had basically said that he couldn't marry Mirabella because he couldn't trust that she'd be faithful to him, and that their renewed engagement was a sham. However, even though he didn't think she was good enough for him to marry, he didn't think she was so soiled that she should become someone's mistress. She should find a nice man to marry. Just not him. Maybe someone who didn't know she'd kissed other men and wouldn't worry that she wasn't being faithful to him? But, oh, wait, Camden still had to get a few kisses in, because he found Mirabella so sexy. But not pure enough to marry.
So, I hated Mirabella, I was very, very annoyed by Camden, and I figured out who Sarah's former lover was within the first 50 pages, due to some ever-so-slightly icky behavior on that character's part and the very obvious “he's short” clue. Like I said, this book is readable, and the pace is fairly good, but it definitely didn't fit my tastes. Had I not disliked Mirabella and Camden so much, I probably would have enjoyed their conversations, so I'm not going to completely cross this author off my personal list. That said, I'd have to spot one of her books at a used bookstore, because I'm not buying DRM-protected e-books and Grey hasn't impressed me enough to make me want to shell out the money for a new book.
- Mistress (book) by Amanda Quick - Something about Grey's writing made me think of Amanda Quick. I haven't read this particular book, but I chose it because it features a heroine who's making herself out to be something she's not (in this case, a mistress) in order to catch someone who's trying to hurt one of her loved ones, her aunt. The heroine believes that the man whose mistress she is pretending to be is dead, so she's shocked when it turns out he's still alive. If this book doesn't sound quite to your tastes, you might take a look at other books in Quick's backlist. I've reviewed Quick's The River Knows.
- The Secret (book) by Julie Garwood - Again, I'm not quite sure why I've added this to the list, other than that something about Grey's writing made me think of Garwood. This is another book in which the heroine is trying to help a friend (and has a secret of her own that she's keeping from the hero), although, in this case, the friend is very much still alive. Those of you who like strong friendships between women in your romance novels might enjoy this one.
- How to Marry a Marquis (book) by Julia Quinn - Another one I added to the list because something about Grey's writing reminded me of this author. Aside from that, this book doesn't have too much in common with Never a Bride. The hero has been hired by his aunt to pose as the new estate manager and find the person who is blackmailing her. Around the same time, the heroine, who desperately needs to marry if she wants to stand a chance of keeping her three younger siblings out of the poor house and give them an upbringing befitting of their station, stumbles across a book with the helpful title, How to Marry a Marquis. Now the heroine just needs someone to practice on... I've reviewed a few of Quinn's books.