My first thought when I finished ‘The Promise’ by Brenda Joyce was that they should have titled it ‘The Fear of Rejection’. Why? While the meaning behind the title ‘The Promise’ does resonate through the book, it is the couple’s utter fear of rejection that hits you over the head in nearly every scene.
The Promise tells the story of childhood friends, Alexi and Elysse, coming to realize that they mean much more to one another than just friends. The prologue begins with a great little scene with these two as young children playing around castle ruins, and it is here where Alexi promises to always protect Elysse. In the next few chapters of the book, Alexi, a strapping young captain with his own cargo ship, has just returned from a 2 ½-year journey. His childhood friend Elysse has grown into a stunningly beautiful young lady and a master manipulator of men, bending them to her ways with innuendos and flirtatious banter. Alexi, knowing how Elysse flirts and leads men on when she herself is not interested, refuses to be another one of her entertainments. However, Elysse is truly smitten and knows in her heart that Alexi is the man she will always love, but is upset that he only sees her as a family friend. To bring Alexi to heel, Elysse shamelessly flirts with one of his best friends. Then a tragic incident leaves Alexi and Elysse heavily at odds, married to each other, and thus living in a miserable sham of a marriage.
Where are they to go from here? Apparently, Alexi goes to China following the wedding, and stays gone for six years. With gossip hot on her heels about being abandoned by her famous husband, Elysse goes to London and builds a new life with the false pretense that she is a happy socialite wife who takes lovers. (If you are wondering if she does take lovers, the answer is clearly NO.) Then after six years, Alexi – who has turned into a drunk and randy ship captain and still very much in a rage over the incident that ended with him married – finally returns to London.
Up until this point, I thought this book was wonderful, and I was looking forward to seeing how these two evolved from the young, naïve and immature adults we met early in the book. I personally hoped that they would have gained some wisdom with age and life experiences, and therefore they would take a different approach in dealing with their relationship and situation. Instead, we find that these two did not learn a dang thing. Alexi and Elysse are still playing games with each other and refusing to speak the plain truth of their honest feelings. Double standards abound in the rest of this book, including Elysse’s belief that nothing is wrong about her cultivated pretense of having lovers as it is what many married couples do. However, she is enraged to learn about Alexi having mistresses – and continuing to have affairs after he returns to London. Both Alexi and Elysse will at times confide their true feeling to friends and family members, but not to each other, which was just frustrating. Their marriage turns into a ‘War of the Roses’ theatrical display, causing so much unnecessary hurt between these two all because they feared rejection.
I normally love a great friend-to-lovers romance, but this couple wasted an exorbitant amount of time (years!) all because they chose to ‘save face’ by not revealing too much to each other. Unfortunately, that meant soothing their pride and quelling the gossip was most important to these two thickheaded friends.
This book started out great, but ended with so much unnecessary hurt between the hero and heroine (and many others too!). By the time they resolve their issues, I was convinced that Elysse should just take up lovers for real, and Alexi would be better off leaving for China once again – never to return. I did not buy this love story, as I would never believe these two could turn 180 degrees and now be completely honest with each other. Oh well, it is fiction so of course they will live happily ever after. I wish I could give this one a better review as it started so good, but the non-stop fighting plus an outrageous wall-banger ending moved my overall rating way down.
Lastly, those looking for a steamy sensual historical will be dissapointed. The bedroom scenes are quick and over in a blink of an eye. The first encounter lasted through one page only.
(This was an ARC copy provided by Netgalley)