"Bella's Betrothal" by Anne Stenhouse is a capitvating read. It proceeds at an excellent pace and provides a pen picture of Edinburgh which is so accurate that the reader can walk the streets with its characters and find them satisfyingly familiar. The tastes, smells and character of the 19th Century city are beautifully crafted by the author and her words give authenticity to the setting. The characterisation in this romantic novel is strong. Bella is a woman of courage and has a wilful nature. Her unlikely beau, Charles, shows many facets to his character, including charm, wit, determination, loyalty, and guile. Add in an interesting mix of family members who are equally colourful and this is a book that keeps you turning the page.
The story begins in 1826. when the young Bella is being driven to Edinburgh from her family home in Oxford. Banished by her parents for her supposed impropriety with a married man, Bella is forced to seek refuge with her kind Uncle Mack and Aunt Hatty who reside in Edinburgh's fashionable George Square. Her journey north is broken at Dalkeith where she has her first encounter with Charles, a family friend who is both a laird and an architect. He enters her bed chamber at night with news of a plot to kidnap her. He speaks of the villainous Graham Direlton and convinces her of the risk to her life if she continues her journey alone. Charles delivers Bella safely into the arms of her family but is called upon to rescue her again soon after when a second attempt by Direlton sees her carried off by him.
In order to protect what is left of her reputation, and to ensure that Charles can continue to gain work as an architect, the two are betrothed. The road to the altar is not without its perils as Charles seeks to protect Bella from harm. He is accused of murder, set up by Direlton, and seeks the help of Bella's Uncle to clear his name. As the drama builds, it looks unlikely that the pair will ever make it to the altar, and as family secrets come tumbling out the ending of the story remains a surprise until the turn of the final page.