Miss Bates was ignorant of Lauren Layne’s Wedding Belles series and ended up reading book three, To Love and To Cherish, without reading one and two. S’allright though, because Wedding Belles #3 fills in the romances of the first two heroines as they weave in and out of the heroine’s story. Alexis Morgan is the Wedding Belles’s head honcho, the guru of wedding planners, with Brooke and Heather close behind. The company was her baby, her vision and sole focus. But there’s someone behind the scenes too. While Alexis is the Wedding Belles’s face, heart, and soul, she is not its only purse. Her silent partner is hero Logan Harris, friend, accountant, and bankroll from the moment they met in a Harlem bar eight years ago. For Logan, it was love at first sight; for Alexis, it was a niggling feeling of “something,” but her focus was so strongly on her business that her awareness of Logan has been akin to a cold cup of coffee you leave on the counter. As the years roll by, she takes their bi-weekly financial meetings for granted. She takes him for granted. Her emotional and physical skittishness and Logan’s British gentleman manners have long put the kibosh on seduction. Now, with Logan and Alexis in their early thirties, things coalesce. Logan’s Alexis-torch is more-than-smouldering, especially when his father is ready to retire and hand the London-based family company to him. Logan must let Alexis know how he feels, find out if she cares for him as he does her – or, he returns to London.
Alexis’s life too is deviating from its staid, introverted route. Her business is successful; she owns the Manhattan brownstone where it and her comfortable apartment are located. But she’s restless with “something missing.” With ne’er a thought to Logan, Alexis sets out to recover from her relationship-reluctance with some online dating. We learn what has made Alexis so love-shy and it’s understandable, at least to this spinster. When Alexis was a business undergrad, she fell in love, or thought she did, with Adam. She brought Adam home to her divorced parents and sister and said sister, Roxie, and Adam fell in love. Just when Alexis is acclimatizing to combing Tinder, her mother calls with the news that Roxie is pregnant and she and Adam are marrying in Florida. Alexis has to attend and, truth be told, while Alexis’s pride is still hurt, she can’t NOT be at her baby-sister’s wedding. In the meanwhile, Logan, on his buddies’ advice, machinates to join Alexis in Florida. He has to know, before he leaves, whether the woman he’s loved for years loves him, “There’d be no leaving as long as she was here,” he thinks and boards a Florida flight.
Unlike Miss Bates’s beloved Layne romance, Cuff Me, To Love and To Cherish is more romance conventional. There are friends, a wedding planner heroine, a tad trite that, and a good friend beta-hero. Everyone does conventional things: friends talk about guys and guys talk about their women. They drink cocktails and eat pizza. There’d be a Sex and the City vibe if it weren’t for the fidelity. Nevertheless, Layne won Miss Bates over because her characterization is endearing and fresh. Logan, in particular, is charming. Miss Bates loved how he went from patient friend waiting for Alexis to notice him to something forward and seductive. Miss B. liked it that he didn’t go “alpha,” but sensed a subtle change in himself, a growly-purr instead of a ROAR: ” … something had been shifting lately. In him? In her? He wasn’t sure … sometimes he couldn’t help but see himself through her eyes, and he felt … dull.” Well, dull turns shiny because Logan doesn’t win Alexis with aggressive alpha-moves. He observes her, really knows what she likes and doesn’t, what she’s frightened of. He woos and a wooing hero is a great hero. Logan is, as Alexis queries to a friend in a what-the-hell’s-the-matter-with-Logan tone, “Cocky. Deliberate. A little cunning.”
The second half of To Love and To Cherish is better than the first. Layne’s signature combination of pathos and humour shines through. The subdued changes she elicits in her characters make them believable and attractive. Miss Bates felt for the vulnerable, introverted Alexis. Alexis is classic introvert, with a strong, controlled, disciplined exterior covering poignant vulnerabilities, stemming from her family’s implosion and Adam’s desertion: “Alexis’s careful, practical heart, even at its most vulnerable like it was now, just couldn’t handle the potential of losing everything.” Of course, with thoughts like this, the Logan-writing is on the wall. Alexis senses the change in their relationship and the acknowledgement of her years-long “feelings” for him. As Logan woos, Alexis withdraws, grows suspicious as her heart engages way before her mind admits: ” ‘You’re being odd. What’s going on?’ This time he did smile. ‘No, I’m just not saying what you think I’m going to say. I’m being unexpected, and you’ve always hated that.’ Her eyes narrowed even further. She did hate that, but she didn’t appreciate being called on it.” Logan’s cunning and love, a great and original romance-combination, works!
In the end, what Miss Bates liked the most about Layne’s To Love and To Cherish was how deserving the leads were of their HEA. One lovely snippet will tell you why:
“Don’t think,” he said, lifting a hand to her hair and tangling his fingers in it. “Whatever you’re thinking, stop, and for once in your damned life, just feel, Alexis. What do you want?”
“I want us to continue on as we’ve always been,” she whispered.
“As long as you’re my friend, you’ll never leave me.”
Isn’t that a heart-wrenching passage: Logan’s desire to be loved and wanted and reach the woman he loves – and the only thing keeping her from him and he from her is fear. But what a fear. Logan is perfect to simultaneously reassure and challenge Alexis. How they reach their HEA? Same-old, same-old: passion, connection, withdrawal, betrayal, reconciliation, but even if it’s genre-familiar, it’s lovely and witty and lovingly written. In the end, Miss Austen and Miss Bates enjoyed To Love and To Cherish very much and find in it, “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Lauren Layne’s To Love and To Cherish is published by Pocket Books, Simon and Schuster. It was released in October 2016 and may be found at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Pocket Books, via Netgalley.