This book recounts the age-old tale of falling in love with your best friend's girl...but what happens when you get your chance at her hand, albeit at the loss of your best friend through his untimely death?This is a beautiful Regency romance on grief, loss, and moving on. I've read and mostly loved all the books featuring the Bridgerton family, and this is the book I return to time after time because I think it is the best in the series. It is written in your typical inestimable Julia Quinn style, so expect to burst out in giggles every so often, but it is one of her more serious and well-written novels. The topic is not touched on lightly, the pain, the guilt, the resignation and denial are all there; you want stages of grief, you got it. It's a 5-hanky book. Possibly more, depending on the quality of your handkerchiefs (lace won't hold up here). The characters are intricate and well described, complex in their thoughts and believable in how they mature. It's not a perfect book; I had some problems with the characters and plot, but overall, it is very well-written and remains one of my favorites in the Regency genre. The writing. THE WRITING. Did I mention the writing? It flows so naturally, so eloquently without being flowery and prosaic. Julia Quinn's earlier works have the ability to make me laugh, cry, swoon, and this ranks among her best.Michael has been in love with Francesca since he saw her, which ordinarily wouldn't be a bad thing since he's a very eligible bachelor...but they met at Francesca's engagement party. To Michael's cousin and best friend. What makes it worse for him is that they are so compatible; unlike his other conquests, he truly enjoys her company; Francesca and Michael end up liking each other immensely. They wind up becoming good friends after her marriage to his cousin; he hides his pain and feelings for her through his usual light-hearted debauchery. They laugh together, tease each other, have fun together, all the while with Francesca blissfully happy in her marriage with her Lord John and blithely oblivious at the pain Michael is suffering despite his outwardly vivacious facade.His love for her is confounding, love at first sight, as clichéd as it may sound...but unlike the usual story when the hero/heroine falls inexplicably in love, Julia Quinn has a lovely way of putting his abstract and inexplicable attraction to Francesca in words:"It wasn’t her hair, that rich, lush wave of chestnut that he was rarely so privileged as to see down. And it wasn’t even her eyes, so radiantly blue that men had been moved to write poetry—much, Michael recalled, to John’s everlasting amusement. It wasn’t even in the shape of her face or the structure of her bones; if that were the case, he’d have been obsessed with the loveliness of all the Bridgerton girls; such peas in a pod they were, at least on the outside.It was something in the way she moved.Something in the way she breathed.Something in the way she merely was."Tell me you don't get a lump in your throat after reading that.And Michael would never dream of betraying his cousin, his best friend. He loves John as much as he loves Francesca, and betraying either of them would be an unimaginably atrocious act. Michael is willing to and is determined to spend his life devoted to maintaining the happiness of the two people he loves most in life. So imagine how torn he feels when his chance inevitably come in a way he never would have dreamed of or wished for: John dies (NOT A SPOILER). He now has the chance to make Francesca his? Dare he take it? No. He flees all the way to India because he couldn't find a way to deal with his grief, much less with Francesca's, on top of his conflicting emotions for her, and doesn't return until he felt "he could be with Francesca in friendship, without feeling as if he were a thief, plotting to steal what he’d coveted for so long," which only took him several years. Michael is not a perfect character, lest I make him sound like too much of a martyr. He's a coward at times, running away from his feelings and his responsibilities when he inherits the earldom upon his cousin's death, and to be honest, I wanted to smack him repeatedly, particularly towards the end of the book, when he starts acting like a patronizing asshole towards Francesca. However, his love for Franesca remains constant, and I can't find it in my heart to dislike him much.Francesca is a wonderful character. Spirited and bright, having grown up in the loud and lively Bridgerton bosom. She likes Michael, she loves John. Lest the reader believes her relationship with John was terrible, in a book setting her up to inevitably be with Michael in the end, it's not. She loves her marriage and her husband. "He was her kindred spirit, so like her in so many ways. But it had, in a strange sort of fashion, been a relief to exit her mother’s home, to escape to a more serene existence with John, whose sense of humor was precisely like hers.He understood her, he anticipated her.He completed her."Obviously, she suffers upon her husband's death, but it comes as a double loss when she miscarries his child. Within a short time, she lost her husband, her unborn child, then her friend Michael through his flight to India, but she survives and comes to terms with the loss. What is harder for her to come to terms with is her growing feelings for Michael, whom she has always seen as akin to a brother. Until one day when she, in turn looks at him."But suddenly… But now…She’d looked at him, and she’d seen something entirely new.She’d seen a man.And it scared the very devil out of her."...then she, too, runs away.Here are two people trying to move on with their life, trying to get past their grief, trying to ignore their growing attraction for each other. Trying not to fall in love, trying not to forget the man they both loved so much, the one who will always be a part of them. Both of them have so much to deal with in reconciling that their love is not a betrayal of memory or trust or friendship, and the book does a tremendous job of portraying that.I also loved the presence of Violet Bridgerton in this novel. She is the matriarch of the Bridgerton clan, mother to eight young children, and it is she in whom Francesca turns to for advice and comfort at her own loss. Violet knows only too well what Francesca went through, having been widowed herself at a young age. Even if she does not get much screen time, I so enjoyed seeing her reveal a little bit of herself and her own grief. We have only ever seen Violet as the steel-cored matriarch who has raised eight young children on her own, and given not much thought to what she must have been suffering all these years. I loved seeing her through the veneer of perfection, giving her own advice to Francesca here.Some latter parts of the book were weak; Michael and Francesca spent as much time fighting with each other as with themselves, and I grew frustrated with both. However, this book remains one of the best Regency romances on my shelf, and I highly recommend it.