Few contemporary women really understand what it meant in practical terms to be “ruined.” We know about losing one’s reputation and those of us who are a bit older know that when we were growing up it was imperative that you tried your darnedest to be considered a “good girl” so that you didn’t end up being the object of endless gossip. I don’t think I hated anything more than walking down the school hallways and hearing whispers about one person or another. But as mortifying as that may have been, it was nothing compared to being an aristocratic young lady, one who had been thought in good standing and who everyone thought had “married well,” and then to find out that the upstanding, aristocratic husband was, in reality, a bigamist. To make the wounds even deeper and more deadly was the refusal of one’s own parent to allow her to return to her own home. So it was with Lady Olivia Carlow, ruined in reputation and hardly received by only those at the outer edges of polite society, all for a transgression that wasn’t even hers.
As if all this were not enough, she is now considered “fair game” by the rakes of the ton even though she was in a much more precarious position than if she had been a widow. And it was upon receiving a scandalous proposal from a known rogue that Olivia decided to fight fire with fire. As it turns out, the note had been written when the young man—a second son, at that—had been “in his cups,” and now he is called to task by Olivia herself, and to beat all, she was receiving some of the ladies who were still in favor in society. The last thing Roland Devere wanted to see happen is for anyone who knew him or his family to know the contents of his ill-advised proposition. So Olivia made a counter-offer: she wouldn’t reveal the contents of his missive if he agreed to pretend to be her fiance until the Season was over.
This historical romance is just a bit different in that it is really two stories melded together into one—Olivia’s pretend engagement and its progress over the span of the Season, and the telling of that of Olivia’s father and his entendre for Roland’s sister, a young countess who had been widowed six months earlier when her French aristocratic husband had died. Now home from the French court, she caught the eye of the Earl and their romance was off and running. The dual love affairs makes for very interesting reading and the two stories come together, all caught in the web woven by a disgruntled gentleman who stood to inherit the title from Olivia’s father should he have no other heirs. Henry Carlow appears now and then throughout the story and slowly the reader becomes aware that his plans for Olivia and her father were anything but honorable.
Written with flair and a deft storytelling talent, this historical novel reads well, moving smoothly from scene to scene, from one time frame to the next, from one context on to another. It is a complex novel with the reader wondering if Roland will “come up to scratch” with Olivia, if she will guard her heart sufficiently, and if not, then how does it all play out, especially with the machinations of Henry Carlow in the mix. There’s also the reticence of Roland’s sister Margo to really believe that Olivia’s father truly loves her or perhaps he is just “in lust.” Their affair is far more overt and plays out differently as society allowed widows indiscretions that were considered totally unforgivable for unwed maidens. In truth, Olivia’s situation was like trying to balance on the thin edge of a razor blade, and that tension is part of what keeps the story intriguing throughout.
I have always been a great fan of historical romance as that is what got me reading voraciously during my teen years. Their lure has not dimmed over the years. And as this story takes a somewhat different slant right from the beginning—one doesn’t encounter bigamists often—the reader should be primed for a story that is far different from the normal formulaic historical. I think this is a story that will delight the true lover of historical romance.
I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.