This latest offering from Miranda Neville is richly entertaining and expertly arranged. 1 part Marriage of Convenience + 1 part love triangle + a little dash of national intrigue = Your next fun read!
When the husband that abandoned her shortly after their wedding returns to town, Cynthia Chorley's battle with temptation and the past comes to a head. She is no longer the provincial nobody the Earl of Windermere married, but a fully grown woman with admirers a plenty and a stubborn streak that will test the Earl's resolve as much as it intrigues him.
Read an excerpt: here
The rift between Damian Lewis, Earl of Windermere and Julian Fortescue, newly minted Duke of Denford, dates back 7 years to Damian's majority. A bad turn of cards and one too many spirits led to the divesting of an important sentimental asset which Julian could have supposedly prevented. In retaliation, Damian interfered with Julian's (an untitled art dealer at the time) career prospects which set him back significantly and led to the lines being drawn in the sand.
One of those lines took the elegant form of Cynthia Lewis, née Chorley- the dukes neglected, provincial bride. Neither husband nor wife entered into the union under false impressions; In marrying Cynthia, Damian regained the asset lost to him all those years ago and also enjoys an infusion of cash. Cynthia gains a title and her family enjoys exalted status and their legacy continuing with the Earldom. Whatever the pretenses of the marriage, Cynthia was enthusiastic about giving married life with her handsome new husband a real go. Sadly, her chance would be delayed a year because shortly after consummating the marriage, Damian accepts an assignment from the Foreign Office which sends him trapezing all over Persia- sans wife.
Damian's slights and inattentiveness to his wife have festered and while the husband is away the devil will play. Julian tries his damnedest to seduce the wife of his ex-cohort almost as soon as he left the scene. When Damian returns he finds himself in an awkward love triangle that has deep seated issues and implications that run farther than forbidden attraction. It doesn't help that the biddable, country bumpkin of a wife he left behind has blossomed into a fashionable, polished temptress. Damian's newest assignment will have him biting his tongue and allowing the flirtation (and perhaps more) between his wife and nemesis to persist. Can he rein in his jealousy long enough to complete his objective? And what of the dizzying attraction he now feels for his wife- will that get in the way of a well-laid plan?
Through all of the misunderstandings and suppressed feelings, Cynthia and Damian will first have to make peace with the past and learn how to forgive if they ever hope to achieve future bliss in love and friendship.
My Favorite Part of the Book: I really enjoyed the Bhang scene where Damian teaches Cynthia about the hookah-like activity he brought home with him from his travels in Persia. The Bhang is a psychedelic which is inhaled and leaves a person feeling relaxed, happy, and "drunk". This scene occurs about 50% into the book and is the first time we see husband and wife truly connect and explore their chemistry. The more relaxed the couple became during the scene, the more enjoyable their interactions became to the reader. One of my favorite aspects of a romances novel is seeing first-hand how the protagonists' love develops and blooms. This scene was unique and sweet.
You can always expect to NOT be disappointed with a Miranda Neville novel. She has a way of putting together scenes and developing characters that secretly burrow their way into your subconscious and differentiates her stories from everyone else's. Her secondary characters are also always a delight and the misunderstood bad boy Julian was no exception (Yes, I am a Julian Fan-Girl). I like how the sub plot of the new assignment with Foreign Affairs that brought Damian back to London was both interesting and not as intrusive on the story as it could have been- leaving more room for relationship reconstruction. That being said, I really wish the love triangle element would have been explored more. If the journey back to harmonious marital bliss was going to take up the majority of the book than I would have enjoyed an even more compelling opposition in the form of Julian and Cynthia's relationship.
I feel as though Cynthia and Damian encountered so many road blocks which stalled their development as a couple and I would have much preferred a furthering of the forbidden connection to fill in some of that space than the rehashing/going nowhere interactions that dominated the middle-end of the book (in other words: a more proportioned distribution+ diversity of plot development). I also didn't connect much to the heroine- I admired her charitable characteristics and resolute attitude that developed from the trials she went through earlier in life, and her vulnerability and loneliness at being neglected by her husband endeared her more to me, but overall I stopped caring about her as an individual character.
As stated, you can never go wrong with a Neville novel, and this latest offering is no deviation from that fact.