This is going to be one of those reviews where I’m not sure of my rating until I get my thoughts on the page. So sit tight and bear with me.
You May Kiss the Bride is the first book in what looks to be a new series by debut author Lisa Berne. The Penhallow Dynasty will follow, you guessed it, the Penhallow family. The first installment introduces this well to do family and brings together the only grandson of the matriarch, Gabriel, and the woman who would go on to win his heart and become his wife, Livia.
Livia and Gabriel meet quite by accident when Gabriel gets lost while visiting an acquaintance’s estate and comes upon Livia walking about dressed in old, ill-fitting clothing. Why mention the clothing you ask? Well, he mistakes her for a servant and coldly asks the way back to the main house. In an angry huff, she sarcastically spouts off some nonsense and then gives him the long, round about way back. Later on that night at a ball they meet again, this time Gabriel realizes Livia isn’t a servant, but a poor relation to a neighbor of his hosts. Her beauty intrigues him. There is just something about the scarlet haired young woman sitting by herself, ignored by the ton, that makes his eyes gravitate toward her over and over. So when she foolishly walks into the garden alone with a man, Gabriel follows. And then does the very worst thing he can do. He kisses her.
I wasn’t sure about this romance right from the beginning because while I felt for Livia, who is a poor, orphaned woman living with her aunt and uncle, there were times she irritated me beyond measure. In fact her personality seemed to change back and forth from sad, almost depressed wallflower with no hope for the future, who wants to make an escape into teasing, sarcastic, angry woman. I did not know what to make of it. One minute she’s running away from her assumed fiancé to find work as a maid in a rundown inn, the next she’s agreeing to the engagement with Gabriel and throwing in his face that she will learn to be a respectable lady and will relish using him for his money and all he can give her. One minute she’s lonely and tired of wearing the Penhallow mask, the next she’s having a sexy interlude with the cold Gabriel and decides she’s in love. For real, I still don’t know if I actually like Livia or not.
Which brings me to Gabriel. This man is cold. And rude and says things to Livia that made me want to kick him in the junk repeatedly. I have absolutely no idea why Livia would even want to have a sexy interlude with him. He really didn’t show an ounce of kindness to her before this scene, in fact he enjoys repeatedly mentioning to her that they will live a loveless marriage of convenience and he will never come to her bed. He wears the cold, indifferent mask and treats Livia like a piece of annoying baggage that he can’t wait to get away from.
But then Livia has this thought:
There was more– so much more– to Gabriel than what he so often presented to the world. She had gotten glimpses, tantalizing glimpses, of his humor, kindness, vulnerability, passion.
But it was like standing at the gates to a magnificent castle. One could peer through the bars, view the tiniest bits of the pleasure within, but one could never, ever gain entrance.
And all I could think was… what humor? What kindness and passion? Yes, he saves the dog she rescued from the streets. Yes, he helped her off a horse when she was frightened and kissed her a couple of times, but he never warms up and speaks to her in a kind way until after the sexy interlude, which happens a couple of pages later. But then right after the event he says something that hurts her again. Damn it Gabriel.
Then something happens that brings the whole family together and I was like YES, PLEASE, YES. Finally, Livia and Gabriel will open up and connect. Finally, I would be able to see them coming together as a couple instead of two people hopelessly circling each other while saying rude things. And in fact they DO come together and have another sweet, romantic night in each other’s arms. THINGS WERE HAPPENING! Livia was in love and looking forward to her new life, Gabriel morphs into this teasing, warm human being that can’t get enough of his passionate bride-to-be. Then they make the trip to the Penhallow ancestral estate and everything goes to shit again. I can’t even begin to describe how frustrated I was. Especially at Gabriel and his reverting back to the cold, distant aristocrat. By the time he does the ‘monumentally stupid thing’ at the end that will eventually lead to him and Livia deciding they love each other I was resigned to the fact that he would never win me over. I don’t use the term monumentally stupid lightly either, as soon as I figured out what was about to happen I inwardly groaned and took about ten deep breaths. Damn it Gabriel.
The ending is a blur of ‘I love yous’, ‘we’ll be happys’, ‘don’t ever changes’, and ‘how many kids do you wants’. It happened so fast that I wasn’t sure if I missed something so I read it twice. All of that angst and suffering and Gabriel acting like an ass and I needed more begging for forgiveness. More soul-searching. More, more, more. A better resolution to the conflict so that I could really believe in this couple’s HEA.
So why am I wavering over rating this book? Because I could not put this book down. Could. Not. I read it straight through regardless of my frustrations and uncertainties. This author’s voice appealed to me. When I came to the end I realized that with any other book or author I would have probably taken a break to read something else, but I just couldn’t. Does that even make sense? I will most likely pick up the next book in the series, because I want to read this author again. I feel like Lisa Berne has tremendous potential and am hoping her second offering has a more appealing main couple. Final grade- C/C-
There was, she’d found, an odd sort of comfort in staying hidden behind this impenetrable mask.