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Betrothed by Elizabeth Elliott

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Betrothed
Montagues #2

Elizabeth Elliott
Medieval Romance
Published in 1996

H/h - Baron Guy of Montague/Lady Claudia Chiavari
Setting: England, 1288.

Read in June, 2012.
My rating:

                                              [spoiler alert]


So, I ended up disappointed in Guy’s book. Since he didn’t appear in The Warlord, I didn’t know what to expect of him really. But as a character, I liked him, as I liked Claudia, the heroine. But the story wasn’t satisfactory. It started out excellent and was that way for about half the book. After that, I felt it dragging and I was losing my interest. Then there were other twists in the story that pissed me quite a lot. Honestly, afterwards, I thought that even the relationship development and the chemistry between Guy and Claudia were spoiled by the moronic actions of both of their brothers. Now, let’s see what I can cover in my review.

The story takes place 5 yrs after The Warlord (if you read the epilogue, Tess and Kenric discuss that Guy is in trouble). To recap a bit, Kenric, the hero of book 1 is King Edward I’s bastard son. He was a ruthless warlord, with a big, scarred body and a brooding persona, who found Lady Tess and became a lovesick puppy soon thereafter, taking away my breath also. His mother was married off soon after her pregnancy to Baron Montague and Kenric became his ‘heir’ to the Montague castle. His stepfather never liked him, and even wanted to have him killed on many occasions. Kenric has two half-siblings, Helen and Guy. Helen used to dislike him, thinking Kenric ‘robbed’ Guy off of his rightful place as the Baron Montague, when Kenric became the Baron after his stepfather’s death. Guy didn’t make an appearance as he, most probably, was training as a knight or something back then. By the time book 1 ended, Helen was an ally, in love with Kenric’s best friend and right hand man, a handsome rogue, Roger Fitz Alan, who loved her back even after all her machinations. I totally adored Roger, so I thought his ‘taming’ of Helen would’ve been a fun story to read. But sadly, not many scenes were there between them when they were courting. Later, with a big drama, a solution was found, by which Kenric’s barony of Montague was ‘forfeited’ by Edward but he was given the barony of Remmington, which he owned through his marriage to Tess. Guy later became the Baron of Montague.

In Betrothed, we find that Guy isn’t a warlord like Kenric. Rather he’s a brilliant merchant and made a mark through his clothes and merchant ships around the world. He can fight and wield his sword really good too, don’t doubt about it but Guy is not a blood thirsty man. He’s rather a handsome, ‘civilized’ man, or so to speak. Now, Guy wants Halford Hall for his own. It was in, as far as I can remember, his mother’s side of the family, which went out of hand through some twists. Baron Lonsdale, who owns it now, wants to negotiate this. Guy knows that Lonsdale is a greedy and nasty man, so he’s cautious. He doesn’t lack money so he’s willing to do it either with money or by force, if Lonsdale makes some attempts to trick him. Ironically, he wasn’t able to escape Lonsdale’s tricks. When Guy comes to the Lonsdale castle, among the procession, he spies on a beautiful, serene girl, who comes out of the church to watch the rally. He is immediately attracted to her, thinking her as ‘exquisite’. The beauty of her face and long dark hair haunts Guy even as his right hand, Evard, speaks to him about Lonsdale. You might also remember Evard from book 1, as he was Kenric’s squire and was training to be a knight under him. I totally liked Evard and hope that there is a book somewhere in EE’s mind for him. Anyway, soon Guy meets Lonsdale but the negotiation doesn’t go well. Guy, indeed, was suspicious of some treachery from the man and so, the negotiation is delayed. Later, Guy finds out that the beautiful woman he was is Lonsdale Italian niece, Lady Claudia. Guy is so intrigued that he even contemplates a marriage. He meets Claudia while she was working in the garden, and flusters her. It seems like she’s also interested him, though in her innocence, she can’t express her feelings elaborately. Guy decides that she will do as a wife and leaves her with a few kisses. In his room, Guy and Evard speak, while Guy takes his meal. Then, he falls asleep, without knowing that his meal was drugged.

Now, Claudia’s life has been a big traumatic event since she was but a young girl. I totally felt her depressed feelings about things and why she doesn’t smile often enough. She grew up in Italy, with her English mother, Lonsdale’s sister, who loved their Italian father a lot. We get to know her past as she talks about them to Guy much later as the story progresses. Claudia had two elder brothers, Roberto and Dante. You might also remember Roberto, even for a while, in book 1, the Italian mercenary who made an attempt to kill Kenric and was killed later on. But, before all these, when their father’s sister marries a snake of a man, Lorenzo, their lives change totally. Lorenzo plots to gain their treasures, by poisoning their father and later killing their mother with torture. He even made it look as if Claudia and her brothers are bastards from a lover their mother took, so they don’t inherit anything. Somehow three of them make an escape to England. Claudia knew Roberto is trouble because he was headstrong and didn’t really care for the consequences of his actions. We later get to learn that it was through Guy (and some lies) that Roberto got a commission in Kenric’s army. Anyway, Claudia was left with Lonsdale before Dante took off, because he thought Claudia will be safe here. Dante’s plan was to admit Claudia to some convent (yah, very convenient jacka$$!) because he doesn’t want any Englishman to marry her and give her children. Claudia, needless to say, had no idea of Dante’s intentions and Lonsdale never saw fit to do anything. Dante never came back in the last 5 yrs. and Claudia was left in Lonsdale’s care, without love or anything else. Her life was somewhere between a servant and a lady. By now, Claudia knew she would never marry but life seems bleak indeed. She also didn’t know what happened to Dante. His missives come irregularly, without any knowledge of where he actually is or whatever he is doing.

Claudia spends most of her time either sewing or gardening in the church gardens. She also knows much about poison and how to cure those poisons (as does Dante and did Roberto), thanks to their mother who wanted her children to be able to know about these things. And she spies Guy from the church too, as she was working in the gardens and was curious about the procession. She didn’t think Guy noticed her among hundreds of others but she knew that she was absolutely smitten by Guy’s good looks. She didn’t really think that Baron Montague would turn out to be a handsome young man. Claudia just befriended a young friar, Thomas, who seems as kind as they come. Since she never really knew much kindness in her life, Claudia was grateful for this friendship. But later on, ‘friar’ Thomas even surprised me! So, Claudia meets Guy (as I mentioned earlier) and totally baffled by her reaction to him. Guy understands Italian (because of his experience with various merchants) and is not disgusted, as her uncle always seems to have been, by her almost unintelligible English accent. Claudia, for the first time, felt some kinship. Only Friar Thomas wasn’t annoyed by her English, apart from that, Lonsdale made her sound like a dimwit and treated as one in front of everyone. That Lonsdale was disgusting piece of sh*t, you’ll soon know why.

When Guy leaves her with those kisses, Claudia starts daydreaming but she knew, in reality, these dreams would never come true. But that night, she was also drugged, along with Guy. Then Lonsdale’s dirty scheme comes to light. He took a naked Guy from his bed and put him with a naked Claudia. Guy was enjoying the feel of soft body beside him, and (this I loved), thinking of Claudia. He needed a woman, he knew and he was totally zoomed in to her. Somehow he knew its Claudia but his sluggish mind didn’t help him until the dawn, when Lonsdale bursts into Claudia’s house with a corrupted priest, who is working with him for money. Both Guy and Claudia are now awake, and Claudia, as she hears of her uncle’s righteous tirades and it was plain as daylight that why he was doing this, she is humiliated beyond anything! She felt it more because it was Guy, the man of her dreams, who had to see her this way.  She was sure Guy would suspect her being a crony of Lonsdale and sure enough, he does. To prove him wrong, Claudia ventures through a hidden passageway and eavesdrops on the priest and Lonsdale talking about a heavy deception, murder and betrayal scheme. It was apparent that Claudia is actually an heiress, and her mother bequeathed Halford Hall to her. Lonsdale would murder Guy, after he pays the huge amount of money to have ‘ruined’ Claudia’s reputation like this and marries her. Later, he would stage it so that Claudia was found guilty and hangs. After hearing all these, Claudia feels sick but she makes a plan. She needs to find Dante in London, and the only person who can help her is none other than the man who hates her now.

At night, Claudia goes to help Guy and they make an escape. Even though Guy was suspicious of her, he still decides to help Claudia. This is where she finds out that Thomas is actually a spy for Guy and has nothing to do with churches and Bible! He’s a knight through and through. He comes out of his façade and treats Claudia very badly and pissed me off in the process. I wanted to slap Guy because he said nothing to Thomas about this, ever actually. Claudia is stunned to find Thomas is nothing like the kindly man she knew for a fortnight! Then, Guy, with people who were there, along with Claudia, rides to Montague. He wasn’t sure yet what to do with her. But, some truths about Claudia are revealed as they were taking rest in the forest. Guy and she were alone and taking their meals. As they talk, suddenly it comes to Guy that Claudia looks a lot like the knight who attempted to kill Kenric. Claudia was already dreading this, all the while knowing Kenric’s relationship with Guy and it seems like her nightmare just came true. She’s again vulnerable and thinks Guy would surely dump her here, in the middle of nowhere or might even kill her. I’ve often found Claudia’s thoughts depressing but I can’t blame her a bit. She didn’t know much happiness in life and as she was contemplating what Guy would presumably do to her, I felt really sad for her. But even though Guy is enraged, he doesn’t dump her at all. The thing is that, against his better judgments, he still fancies her like no other.

At Montague, Guy finds a ‘solution’ for this situation, which made me wanna kill him. He thought, even though they were betrothed (as per the doings of the priest in Lonsdale), marriage, because of Claudia’s relationship with Roberto, is out of question. The best use for her would be to become his mistress. Guy thinks everything/everyone has a price. He would buy Claudia’s companionship, and when they part, he would give her enough money so that she can find some guy later to marry and settle down if she wants. A man in need of money won’t care if she’s a virgin or not. Trust me, I was disgusted by Guy’s thoughts, even though it wasn’t abnormal for the time-frame this story was set in.  But the fun starts when Claudia outright denies to become his mistress. This, Guy didn’t see coming! Yes, she wants him too but Claudia knew there is a big chance that she’d fall in love with him and she didn’t need any more heartache in her life. I totally applauded her decision as she kept Guy panting after her but didn’t give in... until much later. Why? Let me talk about that part.

Claudia informs Guy that she needs some work to earn her stay. Guy doesn’t want her to do any menial work but he accedes anyway. Claudia has seen how prosperous Montague is and by now, the people were much at ease with foreigners due to Guy’s trade and no one treated her as a fool as it was in Lonsdale. But Claudia soon finds that Guy doesn’t need a gardener or a seamstress as he has both aplenty. What to do now? But, as one day they were spending time together in the solar, Guy finds out that Claudia has an extraordinary mathematical skill, you can call her a genius! It totally blows Guy’s mind. Yes, he still wants her as his mistress but for now, he employs her as his secretary to do the accounts with him and so on. Their relationship vastly improves, even though Claudia knows her reputation is almost tattered. No one here knows about their betrothal and since she stays in Guy’s room on his insistence, albeit sleeps apart, she knows everyone already thinks of her as Guy’s mistress. And she has already falling for the man no matter what. It was the same for Guy, though he still was intent on having her as his mistress. One day, Thomas and a search party he was leading go missing and Guy goes after them. He doesn’t come back for a few days and Claudia gets very upset. She was scared of losing him. Evard keeps her company but all of them were worried without any news from Guy. But as soon as Guy, Claudia can’t help but appreciate having Guy back in her life. It is then she decides that she would give herself to him, mistress or not, because she loves him and wants him in her life. Guy was reluctant at first, but then, in the last 4 days while he was searching for Thomas and his men, Guy also came to a decision. He figured out that he wanted Claudia more than anything else in the world. That her smiles counted as his best treasure, just as she herself did and he can never let her go. Her future with money will not be a bright one, as once Evard made him understand. So, Guy was now determined to marry her. It would be sad if his family doesn’t approve of Claudia but he won’t be the same if he ever loses Claudia. Oh yes, Guy was dreamy I say.

As they consummate their love, though none mention it, Kenric pays a visit just the next morning. Guy, after returning to Montague, wrote to him for a solution about this mess, not knowing he would change his mind. Now, Kenric becomes a trouble. Guy greets his eldest half-brother with their warrior ritual, with a grudge match, whatever that means! They fight with each-other, and Claudia just happenes upon them. Not knowing it was Kenric and the people around them were enjoying a match, she barges in to ‘save’ Guy from the big, creepy looking guy who was attacking him. I thought it was beyond stupid as she could’ve been injured. But later, she learns about Kenric and scared that he would kill her for Roberto’s crimes. Trust me, this part of the book was the most trying, and I thought things started dragging. First, Kenric and Roger, who accompanied him as usual, tried making a lot of trouble, mostly to put negative words into Guy’s head where Claudia was concerned. It was bad, and I got pissed more than once by Kenric’s high-handed drivels. Sometimes even Roger annoyed me by taking Kenric’s side. Guy tried to put up logical arguments in favor of his marriage but Kenric, at first, just dismissed his wishes like it doesn’t matter. I felt that he put his own family’s importance over Guy. I know he should but I don’t think he or Roger had any right to treat Guy as a child who doesn’t know what he’s doing. Then there was the distrust. They wouldn’t trust Claudia with anything at all. Though by the time the big trouble occurs, Kenric and Roger were sure of Claudia’s place in Guy’s life, even then they didn’t trust her because of a misunderstanding. And, there was the matter of Dante. Guy has already found out that Dante is now the King’s Assassin and lives a shadowed life as befits his ‘job’. He doesn’t tell it all to Claudia, only that Dante is alive to make her happy.

On the feast day to welcome Kenric, Guy is poisoned. When things turned crazy, Guy, hazy from poison, asks Kenric to ‘watch Claudia and lock her up if necessary’. Just then, a desperate Claudia blurts out that she knows much about poison and can help Guy. I think you can get where the whole mess headed to. Kenric arrests Claudia immediately, misunderstanding Guy and dumps her into the dungeon. But Guy wasn’t poisoned with something deadly and he comes around the next day. What he didn’t know that Dante has already paid a visit to Claudia and she left with him. Claudia left with Dante because the arse lied to her about Guy’s intention, saying that Guy is already planning to hang her in the morning. Yes, it was him who poisoned Guy as he couldn’t stand an Englishman touching his sister. Anyway, Claudia, being hurt and scared, trusts the only family she’s left and I didn’t blame her at all. I didn’t blame Guy as well but Kenric, Roger (to some extent) and yes, Dante. Dante proved to be a boor and an impetuous moron as the story progressed, a personality doesn’t at all go with a man who’s the King’s personal assassin! He was up for doing anything, including killing Guy for compromising Claudia, to make sure she doesn’t marry an Englishman in any way. It was just full of ‘Ugh and crap and WTF! and Oh sh*t!’ moments for me. This distrust between them dragged on for the rest of the book, as Dante challenges Guy in a duel of sort. Guy never doubted Claudia and was mad at his brother for doing this to her. But he was also hurt at first that her trust in him was so weak. But even then, Guy didn’t blame her as he understood her situation and how she might’ve felt being all alone. He was actually ashamed that he couldn’t help when she needed him.
 
Claudia knew nothing of Dante’s plans but she was already in doubt of her rash escape. She was battling an urge to return to Guy, just to know if he really wanted to hang her or not. And as more time pass by, she begins to sense the lies in Dante’s words. I wasn’t very impressed with Dante, as you can see, and he was really stubborn till the end about Claudia and Guy’s relationship. Guy, later, did try to appease him, negotiating solution about the revenge of Dante’s parents’ murders. There were more actions and surprising turns in the later parts of the story, where Claudia gets seriously wounded by a mishap from Dante. She also hears of Dante’s real intentions for her and some stuffs about Guy, which made her miserable. It made me depressed to see her so distressed. And I just wanted this book to finish by then. Even though I loved the epilogue and was happy for Guy and Claudia, my mind was still dwelling on the stern distrust and the rash actions by both the families. I was questioning to myself, would they be happy like this for the rest of their lives or anything from any side would trigger this again? I wouldn’t like to see them suffering anymore, neither Guy, nor Claudia.
4 stars. Overall, not a bad book but I wish I enjoyed it more. Now, off to Dante’s book, which has just been published after 16 long years on June, 2012. I consider myself lucky to have been reading these books back to back!

Favorite Quote(s):
He watched her watch him, a little surprised that she didn't seem distracted by the noisy procession.
She held her hands clasped at her waist, her expression so serene that he felt his own tension begin to slip away. As they drew closer to the chapel, her features became clearer. He was still too far away to tell the color of her eyes, yet they looked hauntingly familiar. Where had he seen those eyes before?
They were her only remarkable feature. Her hair was a plain, dark chestnut color, the slope of her nose not as dainty as he preferred, and her cheekbones too high and sharp to flatter the roundness of her chin. He stared openly, trying to summon a word to describe her. Few would call her pleasing or even pretty. Those terms were too earthy to describe a face such as hers. He stared harder.
Exquisite.
That word came very close. "Breathtaking" was a more apt description. He wondered that all in the bailey didn't gape at her, dumbfounded by such perfection. Not that he would know if others stared or not. He couldn't take his eyes from her. No matter how common or mismatched her features, they somehow combined to create the face of an angel.
“I must leave you, Claudia. 'Tis unlikely we will have another opportunity to speak alone again before tomorrow." His lips brushed against hers in a kiss so brief that it was over almost before she realized it began. "Do not kiss anyone else until then. I want you to save your kisses for me.”
“I like to touch you," Claudia said, in her soft, sultry voice. "There are times when I want so badly to touch you that it hurts not to." She lifted one hand to his face and brushed her fingertips along his cheek.”
Claudia was either unaware of her expression, or didn't care that he knew of her interest in his nakedness. Once he had hoped to find a mistress who would look at him with such undisguised longing.
He had never dared hope to find lust in a wife. The perfect woman sat before him, and she was his. Life was very good indeed. He propped his hands behind his head. "I am at your mercy, my lady. Do with me as you will."
"You wish to be ravished, Baron?"
"‘Tis my fondest desire.”
For the first time, he allowed himself to think of the day when they might part, of what would come of her. He could not imagine a day without hearing the soft, sultry sound of her voice, of smelling roses and finding himself completely distracted by her scent, by the gentle sway of her hips, the soft brush of her hair against his skin. Her smiles alone were worth a king's ransom.
He would send her into a world where a hundred men would be eager to snatch up what he had tossed away so carelessly. They would not care if she ever smiled. Aye, he knew what would become of her. But what would become of him?
“Aye, Claudia. You are mine, and I protect what is mine. Our children will never know the fear you have lived with all these years." He brushed his thumb across her lower lip. "In time I will make you forget your fears and replace them with smiles. I want sleepy smiles when you wake up in my arms each morning. Sensual smiles when you arouse my passions at night. Playful smiles when you tell me I am pigheaded in my business ventures." He kissed the corners of her mouth, gentle, undemanding kisses that melted her resistance. "That is one of the reasons I would marry you, sweetheart. Your smiles make me feel things I have never felt before. They are as addictive as a fine wine, and just as rare. I want them all.”
She looked again at Fitz Alan. He was bent over with his hands in the water as if to wash them, but he looked stuck in the awkward position and did not move so much as a muscle. Curiosity finally loosened her tongue. "What are you doing?"
"Fishing," he whispered.
Kenric gave a snort of laughter. "Ian Duncan is the only man I know who can catch fish that way."
"What way?" Claudia asked.
"With his hands," Kenric answered. "Fitz Alan thinks his face irresistible, even to fish. See how he smiles down at them? He thinks to seduce a fat trout into his arms."
Claudia giggled. Even Fitz Alan's smile grew broader.

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I love to read in my spare time and do reviews the books I read. My blog Punya Reviews just turned 6 in 2017 and still going strong. I love music and traveling. Sometimes, I wish I could live inside a book, having my own HEA. :)
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