When Lord Alec Carstairs returns from the Peninsular Wars, hailed as a hero in the midst of the London Season, only Annabelle Layton knows the sort of man that he really is, that the honor everyone praises is illusory.
They’d been close friends once, before a passionate kiss changed everything. But if she’d secretly loved him, those feelings had died one bright summer morning, when a reckless wager left Annabelle with terrifying injuries. Alec had abandoned her without a backwards glance.
Hardly the actions of a hero.
But Alec has never forgotten her, despite his vow to stay away. There is more to that long-ago day than Annabelle knows, and shocking lies have distorted the past. Can he uncover its painful truths, and still keep his distance from the stunning beauty? Can he deny his forbidden desire, even as it flares again between them, hotter than ever?
As a fan of the Regency period I was immediately drawn to this story and the masterful storytelling by its debut author. Ms. LeMense has crafted an engaging and emotional story full of dramatic twists and turns courtesy of a truly dastardly villain and manipulative and overbearing parents. Readers get a vivid depiction of this era and its devotion to proper behavior as well as a realistic and sensitive handling of issues such as the psychological aftermath of war, disability, and mental illness to further pull you into the story. Add in a multifaceted hero and heroine and a slew of memorable secondary characters and you end up with a delightful work of art.
Annabelle isn't your typical heroine in that she's spunky and not afraid to speak her mind. She's been in love with Alec since they were young and has tried to get him to see her as more than a child. He's been purposely staying away though after catching her frolicking in a fountain. With her brother Gareth's upcoming birthday she sets out to show Alec the woman she's become, but things go horribly awry leaving her gravely injured and Alec's honor sending him to war with a guilty heart caused by her bitter mother and Gareth's despicable and manipulative friend Digby. Annabelle is merely a pawn through all this, believing the lies her mother tells her at the hands of Digby who desires her and seeks to bring her brother to ruin. These events lead her to harden her heart and not wanting to reunite with Alec once he returns, but fate and her Aunt Sophia have other plans with Annabelle's debut into society hinging on his help. Annabelle is an admirable heroine put through the emotional wringer who has come out of it stronger if slightly disillusioned. With Aunt Sophia pushing her to embrace her wild side once again will she finally get the man she's always wanted or will past hurts and his honor continue to keep them apart?
Alec has had honor and obligation drummed into him since he was a child by a rather cold and calculating father. His father's plans for him definitely don't include Annabelle or her lazy and silly brother Gareth but her heartfelt letter about their weakening friendship have him attending Gareth's birthday party where events throw his life into complete disarray. Just as he started seeing Annabelle as someone important to him he's pulled away from her by a promise to her mother that destroys their relationship before it barely began. Alec is a quiet man who lets his actions do the talking. He lets honor override common sense sometimes which creates a lot of unnecessary emotional conflict between him and Annabelle but I still found myself drawn to him as he always tried to do the right thing, as he saw it, with the outcomes not always successful. His interactions with Annabelle were full of sexual tension as he started seeing her as a grown-up on the market for a husband. He may not always be the perfect hero but he tried and considering the importance his father placed on appearances he showed his affection the best he could though it was oftentimes subtle.
As truths are slowly revealed and past hurts worked through these two reconnect as adults in a romance that is sweetly sensual and bittersweet for all the time wasted even as the journey continues to be rocky. Their interactions were full of witty banter and teeming with sexual tension that left me rooting for them though. Along with a strong main couple there were a few secondary characters that stood out as well, particularly Aunt Sophia and Frederick and Jane. I loved Aunt Sophia for her outspokenness and her subtle (and not so subtle) macinations in getting Annabelle and Alec together. She was a breath of fresh air after a dark period for Annabelle. Jane and Frederick were memorable in how their infirmities were dealt with which was refreshing and unexpected to see in a Regency read and added to an already engaging story. Alec and Annabelle's HEA was a hard fought one but immensely satisfying. Once the final page was turned I was left very impressed by Ms. LeMense's talent and am looking forward to her next book!
My rating for this is an A.
*I received this book from the author for review in exchange for my honest opinion.