Philippa, elder daughter of the Earl of Stratton, grew up eagerly anticipating a glittering debut and a brilliant marriage. Then her brother caught their father out in a clandestine affair and denounced him publicly. The whole family was disgraced, and Philippa’s hopes grew dim, then were fully shattered when she overheard the dashing, handsome Marquess of Roath viciously insult her upon learning of her father’s identity. Only years later does Philippa find the courage to go to London at last to meet the ton. She is an instant success and enjoys a close friendship with the granddaughter of a duke. Only one man can spoil everything for her, but surely he will not be in London this year.
The Duke of Wilby is nearing death and has tasked his grandson and heir, Lucas Arden, Marquess of Roath, with marrying and producing a son before it is too late. Lucas, who usually shuns London, goes there early in the Season in the hope of finding an eligible bride before his grandparents come and find one for him. He is instantly attracted to his sister’s new friend, until that young lady asks a simple question: “Remember me?” And suddenly he does remember her, as well as the reason why the daughter of the Earl of Stratton is the one woman he can never marry—even if his heart tells him she is the only woman he wants.
Unfortunately for Philippa and Lucas, the autocratic duke and his duchess have other ideas and believe them to be perfect for each other. They will simply not take no for an answer. Telling Philippa the full truth is the hardest thing Lucas has ever faced, and the discovery of it will change them both before they discover the healing power of love.
I remember when Janga would review Mary Balogh’s books; she was always so thoughtful and compelling in her recommendations. I think that’s what happened with Mary Balogh, who had been an expert Regency writer for years before I read any of her books. It took a couple promptings from Janga before I read the Slightly series. (I know, I know.) Then Mary Balogh became an auto-read and auto-buy author for me in rapid succession. When PJ offered up a list of books–of which this one was amongst the treasures–I didn’t even bother to read the blurb. I just shouted, “Me! Pick me!” and I was sent it. Once I got it in my hot little hands, I read the blurb and felt a jolt of unease. You see, Dear Reader, I am a petty-pantied grudgeholder of the Vendetta Guild–and suddenly I was holding a book in which I knew the couple would end up together, but the premise was he had something so hurtful in her vicinity, she put off coming out for her Season for years. This is where I confess: there are boys from when I was a teenager (some three decades ago) I still haven’t forgiven for the things they’ve said. Granted, clearly, I’m never ending up with any of them but forgive them? She must be joking. There is something about the deep cutting things said in our youth that sting forever.
Oh, but it’s just like Pride & Prejudice, you’ll say! And I did say that too at first, but Darcy’s hurtful remarks upon glancing upon a small country party was nothing to what our hero says in ear-shot of our heroine, who is beautiful, kind, intelligent, and in every way, lovely. I hurt for our heroine and I seethed with her as she encounters him again as she finally debuts for her Season. I nearly tossed the book away when the hero even said a few remarks, suggesting that he didn’t quite remember what he had said (almost gaslighting her for her hurt reaction), though inwardly he does remember. Meanwhile, we meet the hero’s grandfather, who is everything you’d want in a dukely grandfather, and his adoring wife, who we also love at first sight…and then you’re like, “Oh, but what a lovely family. So terrible she’d have to marry him to have them as family.”
This was the point where I thought, “There must be a STORY for why he said what he said, and I must know it now” and, Dear Reader, forgive me, I skipped ahead to find out. I did not find out. What I found out instead was basically The End and epilogue which made me go, “What!?” and become more upset. How was this a happy ending? I mean, technically it was a happy ending, but The End still made me want to put the book aside in a huff. So my first heed is this: Do NOT under any circumstance skip ahead to make sure the epilogue ends right. Do not.
I went back to reading…and Ms. Balogh expertly guided her reader to a gradual liking of the hero. And a hundred pages or so later, I happily learned why the hero had said what he said, though by then I had had my suspicions. By the end, where once again I read the end and the epilogue, when I was supposed to, I thought, “Oh, that was sweet. I understand now.” I also enjoyed some tidbits about Waterloo, including how little people knew (oh, if they’d only had the internet) and the constant anxiety for loved ones waiting for their soldiers to come home safe. I made a list of all the side characters in which I wanted additional Balogh books about, and while this series is listed as 1 of 3 books in the series, that is far too few for those I need books about. I can only hope Ms. Balogh is able to keep up with my wish list.
I do not think any of Ms. Balogh’s ardent fans will be disappointed with this latest installment; however, as well crafted as this story was and vivid the characters, I think perhaps there are a few other Balogh books ahead of it on my keeper shelf (Wulfric perhaps?), but I’m more eager for the next book that will come out in early 2024–oh, yes, Ms. Balogh is definitely keeping up with my wish list! It is always a delight to read stories crafted in the hands of a master.