Series: The 1797 Club, #5
Release Date: January 16, 2018
I started this book with a preconceived notion of how it was going to play out based on the blurb. I thought I was going to be reading a typical star crossed lovers trope, I foresaw anguish, heartbreak, longing for what could never be, etc., etc., etc., and then a miraculous HEA. I am happy to say, I was totally wrong! Yes, the book had all the aforementioned elements, but OMG – there was nothing typical about the way this story unfolded.
Baldwin Undercross, the Duke of Sheffield, has a secret, one he has kept from everyone, his mother knows part of it, but even she does not know the full extent of his ruin. Baldwin inherited the estate five years ago from his father and learned that his father had gambled away almost everything that was not entailed. And Baldwin added to this debt by trying to gamble and only made things worse. His pride will not let him share his shame with anyone. He knows that he must marry a heiress and soon, before society at large learns of the state of his finances. His mother has complied a list of “prospects” and Baldwin must choose one to be his duchess.
Helena Monroe is the cousin and companion of Charity Shephard, who is one of Baldwin’s prospects. Helena also has secrets and accepts her lot in life because she really has no other options. Helena is truly a kind, loving soul, she meets Baldwin when she has slipped out to count stars. When Baldwin asks what she is doing and she tells him that counting stars reminds her that there are bigger things than herself or her problems. Baldwin is instantly charmed and thinks that she might be the “American” from his mother’s list and suddenly, the idea of marrying doesn’t seem so awful.
Baldwin soon learns that Helena is not the heiress and cannot even be considered a prospect, but his mother points out that Charity is a lovely young woman and urges him to pursue her. Helena also learns who Baldwin is and that her cousin is interested in him. She knows that she is not a suitable choice for his bride and pushes down her disappointment.
They meet again when Baldwin hosts a tea for the prospects, they once again end up alone when Helena is embarrassed by her uncle and needs a moment to compose herself. They chat and are found together by Charity.
Her Uncle is livid and punishes her by making her stay home while he and Charity pay calls. But while they are out, Helena receives a visit from the “duchesses”, they noticed Baldwin’s interest in her and decided to make her acquaintance. Helena is overwhelmed by their offer of friendship and she gladly accepts. She knows that they would shun her if they knew the truth, but she can’t help but be thrilled by their friendship. When Charlotte invites her to dinner, she tries to decline, but Charlotte promises to invite her family.
At the dinner, Baldwin once again singles her out and they go for a walk in the garden and share a kiss. After which, he apologizes and he tells her everything. They know that there can be no future for them and commit to being friends. It is not enough, but they will take what they can get.
Baldwin’s mother organizes a house party for the prospects. Baldwin and Helena try to avoid each other, but it is impossible and causes problems for Helena with Charity and her Uncle Peter. And to make matters worse, Baldwin learns that someone has bought up some of his debts and he doesn’t know who or what they will demand. When Helena goes looking for him, she finds him drunk in his study. They talk and kiss and Baldwin learns part of her secret. The next day he seeks her out and learns the full extent of her secrets. She tells him that even though they have no future, she would like an affair. Helena knows she loves him and wants something to remember after they part.
Baldwin knows he loves her and has to make a decision. When he is confronted by Matthew about his intentions toward Helena, he tells him everything and why as much as he loves her, he cannot marry her. Matthew is angry and offers to marry Helena himself. This is the jolt Baldwin needed and he confesses all to his family.
Just when it seems like a HEA is on the horizon, Helena’s uncle throws a wrench into their plans and all seems lost. But salvation comes from an unlikely and surprising source!
This was probably my second favorite book in the series. It is well written, flows perfectly, has steamy love scenes, wonderful secondary characters, one of the best declaration scenes I have ever read and of course a wonderful HEA. While this is the 5th book in the series, it could easily be read as a stand alone title – but be warned, if you start with this book, you are going to want to read the previous books 🙂
*I am voluntarily leaving a review for an eARC that was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher*