JoAnn Ross is a prolific writer, who has written in a variety of romance subgenres. Just looking over her list of titles is enough to make me want to read some of her work (especially the book where the couple write a romance – and you can also buy the romance they wrote). However, my introduction to her, her 1995 Harlequin Temptation Never a Bride, was disappointing. Neither the series nor the story did much for me.
The series, called Bachelor Arms, is a set of stories revolving around an apartment building full of interesting characters, but here it plays no significant role in the plot. This was a multi-author series, but Ross’ trilogy of three friends are the only ones I can find on Amazon.
Never a Bride opens with a prologue depicting a 1930s murder of a woman, followed by the execution of the apparent killer, her husband. This is a very dark way to begin a story. In chapter one, we meet Cait, a prostitute, who is soon revealed to be a police officer. It’s gritty, and sets up a meet cute after her shift, but reinforces the dark tone of the prologue. It’s suggested that she works well into the night, but her meet cute after work takes place around 6 PM, which is a little jarring. We also meet Blythe, an actress, after a long fakeout which is revealed to be a film being shot. Coming right after the Cait prostitution fakeout, this is almost tiresome, not to mention an unrealistic (but common) portrayal of how movies are filmed.
After this disappointing opening, the story settles into the growth of a relationship between Cait and Sloan, a screenwriter who has a reason to dislike police. Meanwhile, Blythe’s disintegrating relationship with her fiance and her growing attraction to her new private detective friend is a subplot that threatens to take over the story. It’s Blythe who wants to learn more about the prologue events, it’s Blythe’s wedding that is the climax of the story, and the trilogy’s arc seems to be Blythe’s story. Cait is a bridesmaid for Blythe, which I suppose explains the title, though Cait does not want to marry, nor does she seem to have a history of being a bridesmaid. The barely mentioned Lily is another bridesmaid, and the heroine of the second book.
Despite all the reasons to dislike the story, there were elements that I loved. The meet cute was great, there were some good plot twists, good secondary characters, and the complexity of Blythe’s situation gave depth to the story. Cait is strong and independent, and in a scene where I expected her to be rescued, she looked after herself. Notwithstanding the disappointment with this book, I’m tempted to read the second and third books to see how the author handles other stories, how Blythe’s story turns out, and if there’s any redemption to the sad events of the prologue.