Once again Stephanie Laurens sweeps us back in time to the opulent world of the Regency England inhabited by the Cynster family. The Ideal Bride is book eleven in the Cynster series, and although the main character, Michael Anstruther-Wetherby, is not a Cynster by blood, he is related to them by marriage and as such is considered family. Many characters from the earlier books make an appearance in The Ideal Bride and it is much like revisiting old friends.
Michael Anstruther-Wetherby is a rising member of Parliament, and with his connection to the powerful and prominent Cynster family his future is assured. Aristocratic, arrogant, elegant and charming, Michael was born and bred to succeed in the world of politics. However, at the age of thirty-three, he needs only one thing to ensure his next step up in the government. Michael needs a wife.
In his usual organized manner, Michael begins actively seeking a bride. She must be loyal, supportive, intelligent, a good hostess, and be passable in looks. He decides that Elizabeth Mollison is that woman. Michael has known her all of her life, as her father Geoffrey was the previous member of Parliament for the district. Although Elizabeth is only nineteen years old, she has grown up in a political household, knows the area well, and would help strengthen his already solid position among the local people. As a well-bred young English lady, Elizabeth is well-suited to the position of political wife. Deeming it wise to get better acquainted with her before making an offer for her hand in marriage, Michael travels to his home district for the summer to become better acquainted with his potential bride.
Caroline Sutcliffe returns home to Bramshaw House, her brother Geoffrey’s estate, after a panicked summons from her niece, Elizabeth. Unknown to all but Caroline, Elizabeth’s affections are fixed on Edward Campbell, Caroline’s secretary, and have been for over three years. The young couple have been steadfast to one another all this time as Edward works to make himself a suitable candidate for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. Knowing that an offer of marriage may be forthcoming from Michael, they all set out to convince Michael that Elizabeth is unsuitable before he makes an offer.
Caroline is a skilled campaigner in the elite world of international diplomacy. A widow of the British ambassador to Portugal, Caroline employs every skill at her command to convince Michael that Elizabeth is not a suitable bride - and to make him believe it is all his idea. Her idea works too well. Michael is shrewd and before long catches on to their game, but by then it no longer matters as Michael’s attention has shifted to Caroline.
Michael decides that Caroline is the woman he needs in his life. She not only fulfills all his requirements in a wife, but he wants her more than he has ever wanted any other woman. The only problem is that Caroline is determined not to remarry. Their courtship is carried out as carefully as any full military campaign as they try and outmaneuver one another to achieve their own ends.
The plot thickens further when it become evident that someone is trying to murder Caroline. Are the attempts on her life political or personal? They work together to try and find the identity of the culprit. Caroline searches her deceased husband’s papers to try and ascertain if there is a possible political motive behind the threats. Michael uses his connection with Devil Cynster, Duke of St. Ives, and the rest of the Cynster family to try and uncover any possible personal enemies Caroline or her deceased husband might have.
The Ideal Bride is a deliciously thrilling and extremely sensuous romance. Although I would have liked the underlying mystery to be explored more, Caroline and Michael are locked in a dance of advance and retreat that is fascinating to watch. Stephanie Laurens wrings all the emotions from her characters in a wonderfully romantic tale of two people, each searching for different things, but finding love instead. Witty, funny, tantalizing and an utterly delightful read. The Cynster novels are as rich and tempting as Godiva chocolates; you can’t stop until you’ve consumed them all.