THE FIRST WEDDING NIGHT
that Lady Juliana St. Albans spent with her bridegroom, the dark and daring Rhys Vaughan, was one of divine discovery, as she realized the fiery fulfillment of a man's driving hunger and her own awakened sensuality.
THE SECOND WEDDING NIGHT
that Juliana spent with Rhys Vaughan was six years later, after he had mysteriously vanished and then returned to claim her just as she was about to wed another. This time he possessed her with a vengeance, turning her ecstasy into a tempest of conflict between them. Yet there was that blaze of passion to light their way through the maze of mystery, menace and mistrust -- to the love they once shared and would have to find again...
Very good book, written in 1995 and recently revised by the author. It is a story of second chances, pride, trust and ultimately love. Julianna is twenty one when she meets Rhys. She is the daughter of an English lord, living on an estate in Wales. She is fascinated by the Welsh culture and language, in spite of her family's viewpoint of it as barbaric. This leads her to secretly attend a meeting of local radicals, where she meets Rhys. He is a man who is a proponent of preserving the Welsh lifestyle, taking their lives back from the English. He is also the son of a man who lost his estate to Julianna's father and then killed himself in shame. There is an immediate connection between Rhys and Julianna, until he discovers who she is. But in spite of his common sense, he can't stay away from her. Over the next few weeks they meet secretly, sharing their passion for Welsh culture, while the attraction between them grows. Rhys talks her into eloping with him. But the next morning, Julianna wakes to discover that Rhys has disappeared. Six years later he returns from the dead, determined to have vengeance on the woman he believes has betrayed him. While he's no longer the idealistic crusader he was, Julianna has also changed from an innocent young girl to a woman with the strength to stand up to him.
The beginning of the book was taken up with their meeting and courtship, such as it was. Julianna is innocent and a bit naïve, not realizing the trouble she could get into. I loved her fascination with all things Welsh and her determination to learn as much as she can. She doesn't understand her family's attitude, and continues her activities in spite of it. She is immediately drawn to Rhys and his passion for his country. Rhys is fascinated by her also, but when he finds out who she is, he is angry and believes the worst of her. He's rather hotheaded and does something that gets her into trouble before he realizes what he has done. His apology is heartfelt, and his fascination with her continues, as they meet secretly each evening in her room. They manage their elopement and their wedding night is sweet and passionate, but all too short. Rhys is kidnapped by her brothers while she sleeps, and handed over to a press gang, but not before they fill his head with lies about Julianna. They then continue their interference by lying to Julianna. But things don't go quite the way they planned, as Julianna has developed a bit more backbone than they expected. I loved seeing her stand up to them and her father regarding her marriage to Rhys.
Six years later she has lost hope. She has made a life for herself at Llynwydd, and now wants more. She's about to announce her engagement to another man when Rhys reappears. She is stunned, and overjoyed to see him, until he begins to speak. Rhys has spent six years believing that she betrayed him and was responsible for his kidnapping and impressment. He is determined to have his revenge, and make her pay for his actions. The scene with him, Julianna and her brothers is heartbreaking, as she proclaims her innocence and he believes the lies her brothers continue to spout. He makes his plans clear, to claim "his" estate and his wife.
Now Julianna must fight for her marriage and her husband's love if her life is to be at all bearable. There's no denying that the passion is still there between them, but that isn't enough for her. I loved her determination to stand up to him until he can accept the truth. Julianna realizes that until he trusts her again, there is no chance for them to have a true marriage. There were times that I wanted to reach through the pages and shake Rhys for his stubbornness. How he could believe her brothers, when he knew their attitudes toward the Welsh people, over Julianna, I simply couldn't understand. There were some fantastic scenes with Julianna resisting his attempts to get her back in his bed, and Rhys experiencing great frustration. I loved seeing how her actions often confused Rhys, as they were contrary to everything he believed about her. I liked how she broke down his walls, little by little, but there was still a core of distrust that she couldn't get past. I loved that she continued to hold out for everything rather than accept less than she deserved. The final hurdle was the hardest and I ached for her as she laid her heart on the line for him. I loved the ending and his big moment, as he finally faced the fears that had been driving him all along.
The concurrent story, involving Rhys's friend Morgan and Julianna's maid, Lettice was also good. He was taken at the same time as Rhys, leaving Lettice to face her own challenges. Julianna's older brother had a large part in this. I loved Morgan and his far more clear-headed reaction to everything that happened. His belief in Lettice, in spite of appearances, was great. I enjoyed his attempts to make Rhys see the truth, and his frustration with his blindness. It was especially satisfying to see the retribution they visited on Julianna's brother.
Her family was a group that was easy to dislike. Julianna's mother was rather cold and stuck on appearances. Her father was ruthless and conniving and I loved seeing how Julianna ultimately won in her battle with him. Her brother Darcy was an arrogant ass, who believed that he deserved to get whatever he wanted. He pretended he was looking out for his sister, but it was really all about him. It was interesting to see the effects his actions ended up having on his life Overton was pretty much spineless when it came to standing up to him. I liked seeing him finally do the right thing in the end.
One of my favorite characters was young Evan, the Welsh boy who Julianna was teaching. I loved his intelligence and desire to learn. I loved how Rhys and Julianna were able to make his dreams come true. I also enjoyed how he defended Julianna to Rhys.