4 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
Most of this novel is the same kind of alpha, very elegant on the surface, but very overprotective and controlling deep down, male meets his true match. They’re socially and emotionally compatible, passionate, etc. and in this particular case, they’ve actually known each other for most of their lives (being neighbors), which means that the main barriers to their happily-ever-after are two things: 1. our hero, Charlie, has a deep fear/distrust of the idea of “love” and also 2. there’s a villain/murdered side plot. Most of this is true to the Laurens formula, and it’s pretty well executed here. Charles and Sarah are likable protagonists (other than Charlie’s crazily-intense fear of being in love), and their journey is both sensual and emotional. It’s a 4-star for me because the villain/side plot isn’t only completely predictable, but also spirals a little into crazy-land in the final couple of chapters, heightening the drama to an almost laughable degree, and drawing me out of the main story.
Charles Morwellan (who we first met in A Secret Love, as he’s the younger brother of Alathea) is ready for marriage. He’s watched his friends and sister marry for love and has decided that he wants no part of that (of course). So he offers for his neighbor’s daughter, a woman he’s always kind-of-been-aware-of, without ever really knowing, feeling as though she’ll fit into his world nicely and make him a good countess.
Sarah has secretly been infatuated with Charlie, but never really thought that anything would come of it. Despite the fact that he’s suddenly proposing, she hedges, and agrees only to give him a final answer after two week of more formal courtship (which starts with rides and picnics and quickly devolves, since this is a Laurens novel, into physical encounters during the nights).
Overall, this was a nice story, it helps that A Secret Love is probably my all time favorite Laurens, and this has not only visits from Alathea and Gabriel, but also undertones of that relationship, which was also one of those we-grew-up-together but never necessarily thought of each other in that way stories. I thought the emotional ties between the two were well done, and it was actually one of the better Cynster-esque sequels (overall, the main six Cynster novels are all pretty good, but I’ve found most of the sequals to be slightly lacking… this is definitely on the higher end).
As I said before, the main problem I have is that even though our main protagonists don’t “figure out” who the bad guy is until near the end, it’s startlingly obvious to the reader (if you’ve read other Laurens novels, this is a villain who’s appeared before, and even if you haven’t, it’s pretty transparent). More than that, the main villain actually upstages the hero/heroine in the final scenes — we hear more about his actions/plans/feelings and the final clamactic sequence is driven/directed by him. All of this is a little… awkward (in that it feels like the spotlight is shifting without warning) and weird (taking us out of the romance). Though it makes sense given that the villain is now getting his own full-lenth novel (coming up in July of 2014), it didn’t make sense in terms of our main romance here, and it’s the main reason this particular book isn’t getting a higher rating from me.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
Laurens is all about combining mystery with lots of sensual sex — the sex and plot don’t overwhelm the characterizations (as they sometimes do in Virginia Henley books), and it’s almost always emotional and sexual at the same time (more like LIsa Kleypas), but the ratio of sex to character development is pretty high… and the side plots that usually involve murder, theft, etc, remind me of Amanda Quick books.