Series: The Brides of St. Ives, #2
Release Date: January 16, 2018
3.5 maybe 4 stars
This is the second book in The Brides of St. Ives series, but it could easily be read as a stand alone title.
The book opens with Augustus “Gus” Lawton, then Viscount Greenwich returning to England after a two year stay in America. He left shortly after his marriage to Lenore and has returned to hopefully work things out with his wife. The night he returns he finds a ball in full swing and to his complete horror, his medieval home has been redecorated in Victorian fashion. He is livid and has a very loud, very public argument with Lenore in which he says he could kill her for what she had done to his home. The next morning Lenore is found dead. Gus is cleared of any involvement in her death and it is ruled a suicide.
Two years later, he still has not restored his home because he cannot remember exactly how it was before and he fears he will make it worse. He is having tea at a local tearoom when he overhears some ladies playing a “memory” game and is stunned that the young blindfolded woman at the table is able to recall any detail the others ask of her. He introduces himself – he is now the Earl of Berkley – she tells him that they have already met and then he vaguely remembers her, but he vividly remembers her older sister Clara. He waits for her when they leave and asks for her help in restoring his home. He offers her a fortune and says he needs it restored in time for his Christmas ball – where he will be selecting a bride.
Harriet Anderson is the younger daughter of commoners, her father made a fortune in mining and her mother is desperate to be accepted by society, embarrassing so. Harriet has a gift, she is able to recall everything she see in perfect detail. She is often overlooked in favor of her gorgeous older sister Clara and unlike her mother, Harriet knows that she will never be accepted by the nobility and will most likely never marry, she would like nothing more than to buy a cottage and live on her own. Gus’ offer could make that dream come true. She agrees to take a look at the changes his wife made and goes with him to his house. She is shocked at the complete change in the house and agrees to help him. She returns home and makes a detailed list of what the house looked like before and what needs to be done to restore the house to its former glory.
Gus is happy that Harriet has agreed to help him and looks forward to getting started. He hopes she doesn’t get the wrong idea and think that he might want to marry her – because she is so far below his station – something he could overlook if she was attractive, but she is not (Oh, isn’t he a prince among men?) But he does find himself thinking about her lovely eyes and her plush lips, more than he should because, you know – she’s plain. When she shows up the next day, he makes it clear that her help must be kept secret – he has no desire to be trapped into a marriage with her. He tells her that the house must be finished in time for the ball (about 2 months away) because his future bride will be attending and he wants the house to be perfect for her. He then announces that he is leaving for London and will be back in a couple of weeks and hopes to see some real changes when he returns.
While in London he considers getting a mistress, because he has been too long without a woman and that can be the only explanation for his fascination with Harriet, because she is way too skinny and plain for his taste. He ends up visiting his grandmother and asking for her help in selecting a bride. He returns to St. Ives and is pleased with the progress Harriet has made. Later she takes him to the barn to show him something she found, on the way there her hair gets wet by the mist in the air and he becomes fascinated by her curls and he can’t believe how lovely she looks. He asks what her Christian name is and tells her that she should be called Catalina. She laughs and says that her sister is the lovely one and he tells her that her sister is lovely, but he is not attracted to her and asks her what she would do if he kissed her.
Harriet goes back to the house and begins to wonder about all the changes Lenore made, they seem temporary and that gets her wondering what happened to her. She visits the tower where she died and thinks that there is no way she could have killed herself. She then goes to the library and finds Lenore’s journal, while looking at it, she finds a secret pocket in the cover and discovers letters – letters that make it clear that she did not kill herself. She shows them to Gus and they hatch a plan to find the killer. He tells her she will have to attend the ball and she will be Princess Catalina, Harriet likes the idea and tells him she will consider it. She is excited and wants to share her news with someone, she decides that her friend Alice would be the perfect person. Alice cautions her to guard her heart.
Later while arranging paintings, Gus approaches her and they kiss. He then asks her to be his mistress – she refuses. But after thinking about it, she suggests they become lovers – just until the ball and then they will part as friends, no tears, no emotions. He agrees and they embark on a heated affair. Harriet knows her heart will be broken because she is falling in love with him. After their first tryst, Gus tries to end things, because he is not sure he can stick to their agreement. But his lust overrules his common sense.
When her parents return unexpectantly, she knows that she will not be able to attend the ball and sends Gus a note. He wants her there and sends an invitation to her family, just so she can attend. Her mother is in alt and thinks that the earl is interested in Clara. The night of the ball Gus singles Harriet out. He knows that he can’t live without her and tries to get her alone to talk, but they are interrupted by her mother. Later they put their plan to find the killer into action, only to be disappointed. Gus then asks Harriet to dance the opening set with him, much to his grandmother’s dismay. While they are dancing, her parents create a scene and Harriet must take them home. She is heartbroken, sure that he was going to ask her to marry him and knowing that her parents ruined any chance of that happening now. The next day Gus goes to see her and tries to tell her that he loves her, but it leads to a huge misunderstanding and she tells him that they agreed to have an affair that ended the night of the ball and asks him to leave.
A few weeks later, Harriet discovers something that may reveal the identity of the author of Lenore’s secret letters. She sends it to Gus. Gus is still reeling from Harriet’s dismissal and even the discovery she made isn’t enough to lift his misery. He asks his friend Henderson (Alice’s husband) for help and then realizes why Harriet refused him. He hopes it is not too late to make things right, because he knows he loves her.
This book was good, but I really had a hard time liking Gus and even his grand gesture at the end of the book wasn’t enough to sway me. The book is well written and flows very well, there are some amusing moments, steamy love scenes, a bit of angst, a clever “who dunnit” and a very sweet HEA.
I would happily recommend this book, even though I didn’t care for the hero, I really enjoyed Harriet and her sister Clara and am looking forward to the next book.
*I am voluntarily leaving a review for an eARC that was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher*