Generally, I'm not a fan of tortured heroes. Sure, I love my rakes and my deep, dark, brooding souls, but enough already, I hated Wuthering Heights the first time around, I don't want another Heathcliff in my reading repertoire. Heathcliff and Cathy can go die (har har har). This entire book is not a happy one, but it is so poignant and beautifully written that I have never regretted reading it or rereading it (for the 5th time).Never let it be said that there is no well-done humor in Regency romance, but it is not to be found here. Go read your Julia Quinn if you want moments of uproarious laughter; this book is best read next to several boxes of Kleenex and a pint or two of Chubby Hubby or whatever happens to be your Ben & Jerry's of choice.The main love interest in this book redefines the category of despairing hero, but he does it so well that even I, with my extremely limited tolerance for martyrdom and angst, can't help but love him. More than anything else, the writing shines. Lisa Kleypas has an art for writing characters, dialogue, and situation that touches your soul and breaks your heart....and I'm so sorry that sounded as trite as it did, that I couldn't have phrased that previous sentence in less flowery language, but I'm by no means as skilled a writer as Ms. Kleypas.This is the second book in the Hathaway siblings series, and by far my favorite book of the five. Win is an invalid. She has been sick her entire life; I always thought of her in my mind as very similar to Little Women's Beth, had Beth gotten a chance to grow up, fall in love, and develop the complexity of character that comes with age. She is beautiful, kind, seemingly perfect. I hate perfect characters. I love Win.She only seems flawless..."outsiders tended to view Win as an ice maiden, neat and unruffled and cerebral...But outsiders knew nothing of the sly wit and warmth that lurked beneath her perfect surface. Outsiders hadn't seen Win teaching Poppy the steps to a quadrille until they had both collapsed to the floor in giggles. Or frog-hunting with Beatrix, her apron filled with leaping amphibians." She has spirit, she has warmth, she adores her family and loves the man society dictates she should not. She is frail in body but strong in spirit, and Win is a fighter. She fights for her health, she lived when she should have died from illness, and she works at painful rehabilitation so she can have the life she wants...and just as importantly, whom she wants.Merripen (also known as Kev) is a Rom, a Gypsy, an outcast. He and Cam (from Hathaway book #1)...I hesitate to call them friends, given their barely concealed tolerance of each other, are unusual in that they are Romanies living and helping a family of poor gentry. As Gypsies, they're considered even lowlier than the lowest of the poor, give the racism and prejudice that their people have faced throughout history, and that is no exception in this Regency setting. Win and Merripen have been friends since childhood, and their feelings have deepened and intensified as they grow into adulthood. Win readily declares and shows her love for Merripen, while he steadfastly refuses to enter into a relationship with her. Merripen is loyal above all, he is so grateful to the Hathaways for taking him in as an abused child, but there is one whom he holds dearest..."and then there was Win, for whom Kev would have died a thousand times over. He would never degrade Win with his touch, or dare to assume a place in her life other than as a protector."He worships her. Loves her with all his heart, all his soul. It wrenches him apart to see her hurt or in pain. It breaks his heart that he cannot have her. He sees her as the most precious thing in the world that he cannot have, for her own good.I just made Merripen sound like such a sainted jerk of a martyr, didn't I? He is...and he is so unflinchingly mulish in his self-denial of Win that I just wanted to slap him sometimes...but then he turns around and says something like this: "All the fires of hell could burn for a thousand years and it wouldn't equal what I feel for you in one minute of the day. I love you so much there is no pleasure in it. Nothing but torment. Because if I could dilute what I feel for you to the millionth part, it would still be enough to kill you. And even if it drives me mad, I would rather see you live in the arms of that cold, soulless bastard than die in mine."...get me a fan, please. I'm burning up here. Whew.This book just simmers in the very best way. The tension and heat is barely contained between the two characters, both of whom are so desperately in love. This is by far my favorite of Lisa Kleypas' works, and as exalted a place as she holds on my bookshelf, I do not put that lightly.