Secret Vows by Mary Reed Mc Call will enchant you if you like mediaval romance. Catherine has been beaten all her life by the men in her life (first her father, then her cruel, depraved husband) because she did not confirm to the beauty ideals of her time. Tall, slim, wild hair and healthy complexion, she was far away from the English rose image, I suppose. When her brutal husband dies, she believes herself free at last to get her twin children from the foster home they were sent to, to spite her. Alas, her equally brutal and cruel beyond measure brother in law arrives and force her to take part in an evil plot, when his sister hangs herself. Her brother in law, Eduard, is one of the King's champion knight and he beat Elise, his sister, to help him murder another champion knight. Eduard, the evil knight, wants Catherine to replace Elise in his heinous plot. He beats Catherine merciless into submission but when she refuses despite the violence against her, he uses her two children as a bargain tool. She helps him or he kills them, obviously painfully or slowly, his own nephew and niece. She has no choice but to assume her sister in law's identity and to marry, Gray, the other champion knight, the one Eduard wants dead... I will stop here, as I do not want to spoil the story. Just let's say that it has a happy ending, despite the lies and deceit.
The story is well written. At the beginning, I was worried because the story starts by a narrative. But it is only for the prologue. After that, the story unravels. Of course, the hero has to be good looking and kind, but I have liked the fact that the heroine is not a pretty doll. In fact, today, I suppose she would be considered as a beauty. The book will grip you from the first page, because you can feel Catherine's despair, the heavy burden placed upon her, her dilemma about whether to tell Gray, and whom can she trust. As you progress into the story, you start to hope, and you want to urge her to say the truth but the author will leave you gessing as what is the outcome. There is one or two passionate scenes, but they are not too graphic and do not distract from the story.
There is some morale is the book too, and it is that true love always conquers it all, and that evil cannot beat good. Also, it touches the subject of how badly women of that time were treated. They were traded like cattles and valued less than horses. I think the term of romance does not do justice to the book, because the characters are rich and deep, strong and vulnerable at the same time, or truly evil and there is no frivolity in the story.
p.s. do not forget to have a box of tissues handy, you will need it if, like me, you cry when the story is sad or happy.