3 out of 5 stars
A Bit of a Disappointment…
There are a lot of interesting details in this book: the female protagonist (Cass/Cassandra) is the darker/troubled character, and is three years older than our hero, who’s at least initially the “angel” who is all lightness and goodness. They’re both layered characters (though it feels like our heroine has more dimension, especially due to her tragic past), and the supporting cast is quite excellent. That said, the beginning of the book (and parts of the middle) were really hard to get through… Cass just starts off as a barely-likable character, and it takes some effort to care enough to get to the backstory, and to have the patience to listen to her justifications. It was an okay read, and I’m happy ultimately that I borrowed, instead of bought it… (there were also some details that drove me up the wall crazy, spoilers below).
Cassandra, Lady Paget, was widowed a year ago… but her reputation is in taters: because her husband died under mysterious circumstances, she’s become known as an “axe murderer” (spoilers ahead: never mind that he died by a bullet wound…) She’s agreed with the present Lord Paget to renounce her jewelry, and any provisions made for her in her husband’s will, so that he won’t press charges (for which she’s apparently scared she might hang). She’s nearly destitute and has a host of people who depend upon her (a maid who has an illegitimate daughter, a former governess who’s having trouble finding another position, a crippled dog). So… she decides that she must find a protector, picks Stephen because he’s blond, she’s heard that he’s rich, and he looks young, innocent and easy to control. She brazenly enters a party she has no invitation to, and seduces Stephen.
(There’s a lot of draggy you’re-not-seducing-me/I’m-allowing-myself-to-be-seduced etc dialogue during this section, and it drags a little.)
From there, the plot takes some interesting twists: we have lovers who aren’t really what they wanted or expected, we have initial misunderstandings and suspicions that are only gradually alleviated (who really killed Cassandra’s husband, etc). But for me, the story never quite came together, and a couple of editing details drove me crazy (spoilers ahead). For example, Cassandra tells us she’s had three miscarriages and one stillbirth, this isn’t a detail she shares with Stephen, she just says she has more than one (never specifying), yet in the next section, Stephen is talking about the four children she’s lost… later, when Stephen is talking to Cassanda’s brother-who-abandoned-her, he mentions three lost children. It’s a small detail, but it drove me up the wall.
Though I really enjoyed the side characters everything is almost too-neatly-wrapped up. (another spoiler: Cassandra’s maid has secretly been married to none other than Lord Paget’s second son and so will eventually live the life of a wealthy woman!) The romance part was up and down, and it was worth reading mostly if you’re a Mary Balogh fan and feel like you must complete the Huxtable series!