Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Townsbridges #5
Published by Sophie Barnes on December 8, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
No other woman compares...
Six years ago, Athena Townsbridge broke up a wedding. This worked out well for her brother and the lady he loved, but Athena has never forgiven herself for what it did to Robert Carlisle. No one has seen him since he fled the church in humiliation, so when she learns of his estate's proximity to the property she is staying at during a family visit, she sets out, determined to make amends.
When Robert, Marquess of Darlington, is reunited with Athena, she's no longer the troublesome girl he remembers, but rather a fully grown woman. Trapped with her when a blizzard sets in, he rediscovers her playful side, the laughter and joy she can bring to his life. But it is her willful nature that tempts him, both with the need to tame her and with the dream of making her his.
At the very beginning of The Townsbridges story, all the way back in When Love Leads to Scandal, there were Robert and Athena. And now, at the end of the saga, tying everything together along with, eventually, the proverbial knot, are Robert and Athena.
But where they began is a far and unpredictable cry from where they ended.
When they began, Athena was only 14 and Robert was a grown man of 24 as well as being her older brother Charles’ best friend. There was no hint of a romance there – and there shouldn’t have been.
Athena was much too young, and Robert was engaged to someone else. In fact, Robert was engaged to the woman who eventually married his best friend, Athena’s brother Charles. An event that could, nearly in its entirety, be laid at Athena’s door.
After all, Athena was that rare person who, when faced with the preacher asking if anyone could show just cause why those two, in this case Robert and his fiancé-on-the-absolute-verge-of-becoming-his-wife Bethany, should not be joined in holy matrimony, Athena spoke up and brought the entire house of polite cards down with a thud. Athena said out loud the thing that everyone else was too polite – or too afraid of starting a scandal – or too worried about hurting Robert’s feelings – to say. That her brother Charles and Bethany had fallen in love with each other.
Six years later Robert is a bit of a recluse. After all, his engagement to Bethany was the second time the man got left at the altar. Six years later Athena is 20 and about to be paraded around the “marriage mart” herself. But both of them are still paying, at least in the social sense, for Athena’s breach of etiquette and manners at the wedding that did not happen.
Everyone thinks that Athena is headstrong and in need of taming, but no one believes that they are up for the job. Certainly not her own family, as much as they love her.
Athena wants someone to love her for herself, personality warts and all, and fears that she will never find such a person. As she hasn’t exactly found that kind of acceptance in the bosom of her own family, her fears are quite real and have done a bit of a number on her self-confidence. Her family would say not nearly enough of a number, which says a lot about that relationship.
So Athena concocts a scheme to repair both her and Robert’s slightly tarnished reputations. She takes herself off to his country house, in secret, to beg his forgiveness for her behavior all those years ago. Not that she thinks she did anything wrong in revealing the truth, but at least conscious that the way she went about it had severe repercussions all around.
Like so many of Athena’s clever schemes, the best laid plans of mice and in this case women very much “gang aft a-gley.”
She gets snowbound with Robert. Who does not want to forgive her or even see her or speak with her, but cannot resist the pull between them. No matter where, or how deep into the surrounding snowdrifts, it might lead them both.
Escape Rating B: The Townsbridges are both a lovely family and a delightful collection of Regency romance novellas. This final entry in the series is a fitting conclusion to every single unconventional romance that has made up the series – and the family.
The Townsbridges marry for love. That was true for Margaret and George (their story is in Once Upon a Townsbridge Story) and it has been true for every single one of their children. But Athena is beginning to suspect it’s not going to happen for her as this conclusion to the series opens.
This is, particularly, Athena’s journey, and with her having opened the series in her unconventional way, it’s possible to see the whole thing as Athena’s journey – just that her brothers and sisters managed to find their own HEAs along the way of Athena growing up and growing into herself.
The hard part of this particular entry in the series is the relationship between Athena and her family, and between Athena and Robert, and the way those two things feed into each other. Because in order for Athena to grow up she has to learn where the lines are. And in order for her to be happy she has to find someone who will help her figure out that terrible lesson without suppressing the core spark of her personality.
And at first we wonder if Robert is remotely up for that job. Athena’s family seems to have abdicated all responsibility in the matter. So on the one hand we have a family that loves her, but from their perspective very much in spite of herself, and on the other hand a man who seems to want to control her or at least manage her – because of course he knows best.
It’s only as the story goes on a bit that the reader, or at least this reader, gets past the uncomfortable bits where Robert talks about Athena needing a “firm hand” – and didn’t that make me squirm – to the point where he’s expressing that he loves her exactly as she is, that her spirit is a big part of what he admires in her, and that what she needs to learn is how to move in society so that she doesn’t either offend or run roughshod over pretty much everyone pretty much all of the time. It’s a bit more subtle than how he sounded at the beginning.
That switch is the making of this story and a fitting end for a lovely series.