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The Willing Wife by Claudia Dain
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I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I think Claudia Dain is a great writer, but the plot of a woman who had been married four times prior was not to my taste. I ended being pleasantly surprised. I felt deeply for Nicolaa, having been wedded, bedded, and rejected four times over by men who wanted to marry up. How scarring that must be to a person's self-esteem. And the King just keeps giving her to loyal knights or subjects as is his so-called right. When he gives her to Roland, she expects things to be little different. Except Roland has decided he wants to woo his emotionally-distant wife into loving him as she should love her husband.

Initially his motives are selfish. He doesn't even plan to stay around (although he will stay married to her). I thought that was asking a lot for him to want a loving, devoted wife that he wasn't even going to commit to living with. But he gets entrapped by his own plan. He begins to fall for the strong, yet inwardly vulnerable woman who he has been wed to. When she relies on her priest and confidant (who happens to be in love with her and doesn't want her married again) to get an annulment since their marriage hadn't been consummated, Roland forcibly consummates the marriage, determined that she won't be able to find a way to end it. I didn't like that. I suppose I could understand why he did it, but it wasn't a very nice thing to do.

However, Nicolaa doesn't let it faze her. She has dealt with four other husbands of varying temperaments and has trained herself to endure and give them what they want (or lip service) until they go away. Except Roland doesn't seem to fall into the usual pattern. He refuses to be ignored and tries to be everything that he feels she needs in a husband. His efforts start to chip away at the frozen wall around her heart. She finds herself falling deeply for the serious, godly knight who spent the several years prior to their marriage celibate after the loss of his dearly-loved wife who begged him to take her on the Crusades with him. He had determined he would not love again, but he falls deeply for his reluctant wife.

As is typical for a Claudia Dain book, the characters are complex, yet the writing style is poised yet simple. You feel immersed in the medieval period, and get to experience the everyday trials and tribulations of people who lived in that time. But fundamentally, she tells a good love story about people who have suffered in their lives, yet manage to find true love where they did not expect it to be found.
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