Actual rating: 3.5
So maybe I cried a little bit. I swear to god it's not THAT type of tear-jerker book, but one paragraph just hit me hard. Before I knew it, my nose was stinging, my eyes were watering, and to my absolute horror, I felt a single tear slipping down my cheeks. DAMMIT.
There was absolutely nothing vexing about this book. It was thoroughly pleasant, thoroughly comforting, and completely enjoyable. It is the equivalent of a warm scarf on a rainy day.
The main character is a sweet, rational, absolutely likeable young woman. She has grown up in the warm embrace of a a loving family, and we can see that she has grown up all the better for it. The love interest is a dissolute rake, but not in the way you would expect. The side cast is absolutely delightful, and I look forward to seeing more of them in the next book. Nothing hurts.
The Summary: Up until 2 years ago, Henry, the Duke of Lovingdon, was an exemplary man who led a blameless life.
All my life I had sought to do the right and proper thing. I did not frequent gaming hells. I did not imbibe until I became a stumbling drunk. I fell in love at nineteen, married at twenty-one. I did the honorable thing: I did not bed my wife until I wed her. On our wedding night she was not the only virgin between our sheets.
This flawless existence fell apart when his beloved wife and young daughter died.
With their deaths, Lovingdon fell apart in a blaze of misery. He hated the world---and who can blame him?
I was brought up to believe that we were rewarded according to our behavior. Yet the Fates had conspired to punish me, to take away that which I treasured above all else, and I could find no cause for their unkind regard.
And so I said to hell with it all. I would sow the wild oats I had not in my youth. I would gamble, I would drink, I would know many women.
Lovingdon, heartbroken with grief, said "Fuck it all" to the world, and set out to sleep and drink and gamble and do all the good stuff that rakes do. And he's content to while away his existence in this dissolute manner until one night, when he is interrupted in flagrante delicto by his childhood neighbor, Grace.
Grace is 19. She has had a privileged existence. Her parents, the Duke and Duchess, adore her. She is well-bred, she is well-educated, spirited and lively without bitchiness, she is kind, she is not a snob, she is exemplary.
And she wants a husband. Grace doesn't want Lovingdon as her husband...she wants his help in finding one who loves her. Grace is a Duke's daughter. She comes with a huge dowry. All of England's fortune hunters are out for her hand.
And they were charming. Every last one of them. Which was part of her dilemma. How to separate charm from con.
Grace wants to be able to tell who loves her, and who only wants her for the money she will bring to the marriage.
“I do not doubt that I will know if I love him. But how will I know if he loves me? With so many men vying for my affections, how can I know if their hearts are true? I shall marry only once, and fortune hunters abound. I want to ensure that I choose well.”
Good girl. Grace has a good head on her shoulders, but Lovingdon is too busy wallowing in his misery and grief to bother.
But he does care. Lovingdon has grown up with Grace. He has known Grace was a little child who refused to come down from a tree. He knows that she needs his guidance. As reluctant as he is to give it to her, Lovindgon knows that she needs his help. Slowly, Lovingdon emerges from his cave of misery. Try as he might, Lovingdon can find nobody good enough for Grace, and as he starts to instruct her on what to search for in the right man...
“He would touch you in ways he could not touch you with his hands—not in public. But images would be filling his mind. He would be unable to tear his gaze away.” Clearing his throat, he broke the connection that was joining them and looked up into the trees. “He will look at you, Little Rose, as though you are everything, because to him you will be.”
...he realizes that he wants her for himself.
It wouldn't be a story if there were no challenges to their love, and Lovingdon has got a whole lot of mental scars to overcome.
“He won’t marry again, Grace. Something inside him broke with the death of Juliette and Margaret. You can’t put him back together, sweetheart, not the way he was.”
Grace herself is not the carefree miss we initially believe her to be, she, too, has scars that we will slowly come to discover.
“We all have jagged edges.” Hers more hideous than any Lovingdon might possess.
They are so perfect together. Will Lovingdon ever overcome his grief to love again? Will Grace find the love she has been searching for?
“Why can’t it be you?”
“I don’t have it within me to love like that again.” His voice was somber, reflective, filled with pain and anguish.
Grace: Grace is one of the most enjoyable HR characters I can remember reading. She is so rational, so sweet, so kind. This is not one of those books without female friendships, there is no girl hate in this book at all. Grace is more than happy to help out a friend or an acquaintance in need. She knows that she is the most desirable woman in town because of her dowry, but far from being a friendless, snobby chit, she is always happy to make friends with those who might be rivals.
Lady Cornelia beamed, and Grace didn’t think she looked at all like a ghoul. She thought she more closely resembled an angel. “The other girls are jealous of the attentions you get, you know.”
“I know. But we always want what someone else has.”
“What do you want?”
Grace gently squeezed her arm. “I want you to have Lord Ambrose.”
Grace is so sensible, she knows that the world does not revolve around her falling in love. Grace wants it, but she knows that life will continue as it always does, her life does not hinge around finding the right man.
She cursed Lovingdon for not taking her problem seriously, but then she supposed it wasn’t truly a serious problem. No one would go hungry, be without shelter, or die because of her choice. And if she didn’t choose, her parents weren’t likely to disown her. She supposed she could live very happily without a husband, but it was the absence of love that was troubling.
THANK YOU, RATIONALITY.
Grace holds her infatuation in check. Rest assured, she has had an infatuation with Lovingdon since they were children. I can't blame her, Lovingdon is, after all, the childhood rescuer of kittens. However, they are grown now, and she knows it is silly to place her heart and hopes with him, a rake in mourning, who will never accept love.
...her heart did that silly little somersault thing in her chest, which had irritated her beyond measure. She didn’t want it dancing about for him. He had proven to be a disappointment. She loved him as a friend, a brother. Her woman’s heart would never love him as more than that.
Grace hurts, she hurts deeply, but she has her pride, too. She is unwilling to compromise for love.
Staring at him, she shook her head. “I can’t make it work without falling in love. I won’t. I deserve a man who cares if I die.”
Grace may have a broken heart, but she never falls comatose and prostate with grief for the fact that love has passed her by.
...she certainly wasn’t going to sit here all night feeling sorry for herself. She thought about trying to sketch. She had been working on a story told through pictures of a bunny who had lost an ear and feared no other rabbit would ever love him, because he was scarred and different. She thought she would have it published as a children’s book, but at the moment she didn’t care about the damn bunny.
She hurt too much to care about anything.
Lovingdon: More than once in this book, I wanted to take a cold cup of ice water and toss it at Lovingdon's head because he is so incredibly stubborn. But then again, it's a rake. Stubborn is their middle name. Lovingdon is prostate with grief and guilt over his wife and daughter's death, so much that he refuses to love again. He is truly sincere about helping Grace. He cares about her, as a friend, as a woman, as someone he respects. Grace deserves the best of men.
“She deserves better than a man who sees only a fortune when he gazes on her.”
Until that moment he hadn’t realized the truth of those words. She did deserve the love she so desperately sought.
Lovingdon is so consumed by his guilt at all time.
She wanted love. He could give her lust in abundance, but not love. He had closed his heart to the possibility. He would never again experience the devastating pain of loss. He would not love. He would not.
Lovingdon knows Grace wants him, but he can't give her the love that she deserves. Grace is better than what Lovingdon can give her. She deserves a man who loves her entirely, not one who is broken.
He did care about her, dammit, just not as she wished, not with his entire heart and soul. Those belonged to, would always belong to, Juliette.
He cared for Grace too much to place her second when she deserved to be some man’s first.
If there is one character that is mildly vexing about this book, it is Lovingdon's stubbornness.
The Other Characters: This book does secondary character so well that it makes me want to go back and read the other books in Lorraine Heath's repertoire so I could get more of them. Husbands, wives, brothers, friends; the other characters in this book feel like they belong. They are not merely scenery, they feel like old friends we haven't seen in a long time.
The secondary characters in this book are so awesome. From Grace's loving parents, the best, most wondrously generous and kind of parents, to her friends, to her "adopted" brother, Drake (whom I hope we'll be seeing again soon). The love the characters in the book have for one another, the respect and protectiveness they have for Grace was a joy to read.
"Help her if you’ve a mind to. Otherwise walk away. I value your friendship, but I value hers more. I could destroy you within the blink of an eye.”
The Faults: This book is not perfect, here is why:
1. Drake's relationship with Juliette: It didn't feel genuine.
“You judge love by her,” she stated. No question, and yet he felt obligated to answer.
“I judge everything by her.”
Drake's love for Juliette always feels too perfect, a pastel carnation compared to the fiery red rose of Grace. Lovingdon expresses a lot of grief for Juliette, but it feels somewhat unbelievable when he describes his relationship to Juliette as...dull.
Hadn’t he taken Juliette for walks in the garden at night whether the moon was full or absent, and behaved himself? A kiss on the back of her hand. Twice he leaned over for a kiss on the cheek. Once he had grazed his mouth across hers in much the same manner that Grace had described Somerdale’s kiss. Innocent. Respectful. Boring as hell.
Only now did he realize how dull his courtship had been.
2. Juliette's memory is lifeless His relationship with Grace seems only to heighten how perfectly bland Lovingdon's relationship with his late life was. They are calm, she is demure. She is too perfect. So perfect that she is lifeless.
He’d never had harsh words with Juliette. They’d never argued. She’d never been short with him or looked as though she were on the verge of reaching across the expanse separating them in order to give him a good hard shake.
This serves to highlight how GOOD, how spirited Grace is in comparison, and I don't appreciate that. It feels like Juliette's memory is manufactured to be bland in order to make Grace look better in contrast.
Overall: a good book, if rather bland.