Elizabeth Ashburton has never been married, and at this rate, she never will be. But pretending to be a bereaved young widow was the only way she could think to excape a horrid fate: marrying the man who murdered her father.
When Rowland Manning, the most notorious and powerful blackguard in all England, discovers strength and sensuality behind Elizabeth’s mysterious facade, he never the breathtaking siren will rescue him from disaster . . . with just one touch.
Elizabeth knows whe is playing a dangerous game, for her dreaded suitor will not give her up without a fight. Now she needs Rowland more than ever–to rescue her from a life of desperation, to drive her wild with desire, and to make her his scandalous bride.
Historical fiction is filled with scandalous characters, both brides and assorted aristocrats and commoners who are rogues, blackguards, rakehells, and such. But every once in awhile the reader encounters a blackhearted, self-centered, all-for-himself kind of character that one is fully prepared to dislike intensely. In those kinds of situations the narrative seems to prove that a reader is justified in thinking the worst of that person. Rowland Manning is one of those guys in spades. He is just a miserable, nasty, wise-cracking, irreverent, disrespectful person who has dragged himself up from the dregs of the rookeries of London. His human sensibilities have been scarred by abject poverty and the long buried griefs of watching his mother try to keep her family in food and shelter, only to end up as a whore. His sister faired little better. His half-brother was a total brigand–his half-brother Howard, that is. His aristocratic half-brother is another matter entirely. Rowland has made sufficent money as lover of wealthy women and as an expert in horses to now have his own stables.
Elizabeth Ashburton is as far removed from Rowland Manning as east is from west. She was raised by an aristocratic father who was a military officer during the Napoleonic War, residing in boarding schools for young ladies, but going to the Peninsula to take care of her father. She loved being with the military families, dancing and flirting with the unmarried officers, and being with her father. (In those days, all hostilities ceased at sundown, after which parties, state dinners, and such were held without worry of attack from the enemy. The war began the next day at sunrise.) She caught the eye of General Pymm who became obsessed with her, a match her father did not favor. He lost his life because of that refusal of his permission. Now the general is pursuing Elizabeth and he is also now a national hero, due to receive a dukedom from the Pince Regent, and Elizabeth has been fleeing from him for two years when our story begins.
This is a complicated tale that brings many characters into the drama. There are dukes and earls, military officers and commoners, all of whom are engaged in some form of intrigue to either keep Elizabeth safe from the general or to prove in come way that his perfidy has resulted in the death of Elizabeth’s father and her best friend’s husband. There are numerous times it looks like the general has her cornered. Her friends use amazing creativity to keep her free. Rowland is brought into the mess because his half-brother, the earl, is Elizabeth’s friend and she finds herself hiding out at his stables, taking over for a deplorable cook, and recognizing that she has encountered a man who is really hiding, too–from his background, from his feelings, from a future that holds little love and kindness.
I really enjoyed this book, especially as the author peeled away the layers of Rowland Manning and revealed a far different man than I encountered in the early pages. I found Elizabeth to be a woman of extraordinary courage, one who took whatever opportunity life offered to keep from becoming chattal to a wicked man who fed on his own pomposity. Her friends were exceptional people, knowing the limited options Elizabeth had but never missing a beat when it came to securing her safety and hopefully her future happiness.
This story is a marvelous love story, one that embraces loyalty and love, friendship and caring, goodness that is strong enough to overcome an evil that is rejoicing in its own wicked triumph. It is about the power of creativity over the deadly faith in the same-old-same-old. There is a joy in this story as the reader walks along side the characters as they find their own path and discover hope in places that are really surprising. It is one of those books that I know I will re-read in the future and will take the time to savor the dialogue and watch Rowland and Elizabeth grow in their love for one another. Their path to true love is not smooth by any means. But that makes an even better story.
As compelling romantic fiction, this book makes the grade. It is well-written, with characters that span the full range of English society. It’s storyline could have come right straight from the history books. Sophia Nash has already established herself as a writer of very good historical fiction. She doesn’t disappoint in this book either.
I give this novel a rating of 4.5 out of 5.
This book is available from Avon. You can buy it here