Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Westcott #8
Published by Berkley on August 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
Love comes when you least expect it in this captivating new novel in the Wescott Regency romance series from New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh.
Lady Jessica Archer lost her own interest in the glittering excitement of romance after her cousin and dearest friend, Abigail Westcott, was rejected by the ton when her father was revealed to be a bigamist. Ever practical, however, once she's twenty-five, she decides it's time to wed. Though she no longer believes she will find true love, she is still very eligible. She is, after all, the sister of Avery Archer, Duke of Netherby.
Jessica considers the many qualified gentlemen who court her. But when she meets the mysterious Gabriel Thorne, who has returned to England from the New World to claim an equally mysterious inheritance, Jessica considers him completely unsuitable, because he had the audacity, when he first met her, to announce his intention to wed her.
When Jessica guesses who Gabriel really is, however, and watches the lengths to which he will go in order to protect those who rely upon him, she is drawn to his cause—and to the man.
The previous books in this series have followed the adventures and romantic exploits of those who were the collateral damage that resulted from the exposure of Humphrey Westcott’s figurative bastardy. This story, however, is rather about the collateral damage that resulted from the collateral damage.
Lady Jessica Archer’s personal fortunes were not affected by the discovery that her best friend, Abigail Westcott, was a bastard in the literal sense and not the lady that she was raised as. Her status irrevocably changed when it was revealed, after the figurative bastard’s death, of course, that her father had been a bigamist who was never legally married to her mother.
The exposure of the entire farrago is told in the first book in this series, Someone to Love, when the orphan Anna Snow discovers that she is the late, unlamented Humphrey’s legal heiress. Anna surprisingly finds both love and acceptance in the arms of Lady Jessica’s brother, the Duke of Netherby.
As someone who experienced Humphrey’s posthumous asshattery at second hand, and as a character who has grown up considerably over the course of the series – Jessica was 17 in Someone to Love and is 25 in Someone to Romance – many of her attitudes in the early parts of this story seem more than a bit self-indulgent, and that’s not a good look for a character who seems to have everything anyone could possibly ever want.
Except for the freedom that is part and parcel of being born male, while absolutely forbidden to anyone female. Now that’s a piece of resentment most of us can understand. As is her expressed desire to be wanted for herself as a person, and not just because she is oh-so-eminently eligible, being both the daughter and the sister of a duke, being a member of not one but two powerful ton families, and being wealthy in her own right.
But the persona of Lady Jessica Archer is just what – and not who – Gabriel Thorne needs to marry when this story opens. Because Gabriel has returned to England to claim his birthright as the Earl of Lyndale right out from under the nose of his lying, scheming, raping and possibly murdering cousin.
Gabriel will need the backing of both of Jessica’s noble families to keep himself out of the hangman’s noose that his cousin fitted him for over a decade ago. He will need Lady Jessica Archer’s aristocratic bearing and training to right all the wrongs that have been visited upon the estate he should have taken up years ago.
But he’ll get neither unless he can engage with the woman behind the haughty mask that Jessica presents to the entire world. Except for those she loves.
Escape Rating B: I have rather mixed feelings about this book. I didn’t warm up to Jessica until she warmed up to Gabriel, and that takes a relatively long time, story-wise. It’s not just that this romance is a very slow burn, although it certainly is, as that we don’t really see much in the way of romancing – in spite of both the title and Jessica’s expressed need to be, well, romanced.
I’m not sure I really saw them “fall” for each other. I just didn’t “buy” the romance.
What I did love, however, was the strong plot thread attached to Gabriel’s claiming of his estate and title, his feelings of duty and responsibility towards an estate that he never wanted nor expected to inherit, and especially his “revenge” on the cousin who abused that estate and tried to rob Gabriel of not just his inheritance but his life.
Because that part of the story read as a “fix-it” story of epic proportions, and I absolutely adore “fix-it” stories.
(I’m familiar with the use of ‘Fix-It” stories from fanfiction. There’s an entire class of fanfiction that seems to apply to all properties where the world of the original work is a mess but through fanfic the protagonists get to “fix” all the messes either by going back in time or changing a plot element or what-have-you. Good triumphs and righteously delivers epic payback on evil in all its forms. I’m finding stories of that stripe a great deal of comfort in our current, chaotic times.)
This story felt like a “fix-it” on Gabriel’s side of the story. There’s no fixing Humphrey’s mess, he’s dead, he’s been dead and this is not fantasy or SF. But the authors of Gabriel’s troubles, or at least one of those authors, is still alive and well and trying to do him dirty yet again. And circumstances are such that it isn’t possible to deliver the legal comeuppance the bastard deserves.
Watching it happen through an epic and extremely public serving of social opprobrium, however, was exceedingly satisfying. And actually kind of a comfort read.
This series as a whole is a bit of a comfort read. I like these characters (except Humphrey, of course – he’s certainly not missed). They’re great people and it’s lovely to see them get their HEAs. Some of the stories in the series have been particularly charming, and I love the fact that their reduction in social standing actually gives all of them a LOT more freedom which they eventually learn to use to great effect. So I got completely sucked back into this family and this world even though I wasn’t all that thrilled with the heroine’s behavior for a chunk of the story.
I think, though, that this one may have run its course. Or perhaps it’s taken itself too far afield from the original group of affected people. There’s one left, Humphrey’s son Harry, the young man who was VERY briefly an Earl before his father’s perfidy was discovered. Harry was much happier as a soldier than as an Earl, but his war is over. It’s time for him to finally get his much deserved HEA and close out his family’s story in Someone to Cherish, hopefully sometime next year..