The English Duke by Karen Ranney

This title may be purchased from Amazon

For years, Martha York has been fascinated by a man she’s never met—Jordan Hamilton, the new Duke of Roth and protégé to her inventor father. Could the elusive gentleman possibly live up to his brilliant letters? When Martha travels to his estate to carry out her father’s last bequest, she discovers that the answer is a resounding yes, for the duke’s scientific mind belies a deep sensuality…

Jordan was determined to complete his prototype alone, but it’s impossible to resist the alluring young woman who shows up at his door. Working together, they grow ever closer, until a case of mistaken identity leaves him bound to another. A woman’s heart may be more complex than the most intricate invention, but Jordan must find a way to win Martha’s, or lose the only woman who can truly satisfy him…

Rating: B

I hesitate to describe Karen Ranney’s latest offering, The English Duke as being part of a series, because really, it’s a standalone novel that doesn’t feature any characters or continue any plotlines from the author’s last book, The Scottish DukeThe titles are similar, of course (the forthcoming third book is The American Duke) and there are a number of common plot elements;  the hero is a scientist and there’s an evil “other woman” character, for instance. I’m not sure if the similarities are deliberate – a way of providing a link between the books – or just accidental, but whatever the case, I enjoyed this one enough to feel happy recommending it.

Martha York’s father was a scientist and inventor of some renown. Upon his death, he left his large fortune to his two daughters, and bequeathed his prototypes and notes on his latest project to his protégé and long-time collaborator, Jordan Hamilton, the Duke of Roth. York and the duke had corresponded for years, since before Jordan, a former naval officer, inherited his title, so Martha was both upset and annoyed when the duke failed to respond to her father’s request that Jordan visit before he died. The one communication Martha has received tersely informed her that the duke did not want her father’s bequest, and she can’t understand it.  Over the years, she was privy to the correspondence between Jordan and her father, and feels she came to know and understand him a little through his words. She knows he was as invested in their current project – to develop a working torpedo-ship – as her father was. Why then, is he so emphatic about refusing her father’s dying wish?

She decides that if the duke won’t come to her, then she will go to him and arranges to travel to his estate, Sedgebrook, accompanied by her younger half-sister, Josephine, and their grandmother.  Martha intends to deliver the numerous boxes and files her father left, stay at the village inn overnight and travel back the next day, but when her grandmother is taken ill, there is no alternative but for the ladies to accept the duke’s (somewhat begrudging) offer of hospitality.

Jordan Hamilton was never meant to be a duke.  A second son, he made his career in the Navy and then at the War Office (in the department that was eventually to become the Intelligence Division) and inherited his title following the death of his older brother – discovering only then that both brother and father had dipped deep and left him with a large estate but not the means to pay for its upkeep.  Not long after that, he had a serious riding accident which crushed his leg; the doctors said he’d never walk again, but he has proven them wrong through sheer bloody-mindedness, although he has to use a cane and still suffers a lot of pain.  He’s not gregarious – as his brother was – much preferring his own company and “tinkering” with his various scientific projects which, of which, at the moment, the development of the torpedo-ship is the most important.

When Mrs. York is taken ill, Jordan is too gentlemanly not to allow the ladies to stay but he isn’t happy about it.  The younger York sister, Josephine is beautiful but shallow, her mind full of fashion and the latest on-dits, things that don’t interest Jordan at all, but Martha… Martha is a completely different matter.  She acted as her father’s assistant and is as knowledgeable about the torpedo-ship and as at home fiddling with cogs and springs or hammering out bits of copper as Jordan is.  She’s inquisitive, clever and forthright but is still a woman of her time, feeling out of step because she doesn’t care much about clothes or finding a husband.  The friendship that develops between Jordan and Martha is one born of mutual respect and common interests, and the author does a fabulous job of showing their growing attraction and most especially of imbuing their scenes together with a palpable sense of longing and tenderness.

If left to themselves, there’s no doubt these two lonely, unusual people would have eventually come together, but Josephine has set her sights on becoming a duchess and mistress of Sedgebrook and will do anything in order to achieve that aim.  I know that some readers are not fond of the “evil other woman” trope, and I admit that I did roll my eyes a bit (mostly because, as I said at the beginning, there’s an “evil OW” in the previous book, too) but actually, it works well to heighten the tension in the story.  Josephine is selfish, spoiled and treats Martha like dirt – but I like a bit of melodrama sometimes, and she’s certainly one of those characters one can love to hate while eagerly awaiting their comeuppance.

Fortunately, the author has mostly avoided the trap of making Josephine so flamboyant a character that she eclipses Martha.  Martha is definitely more subdued, but there’s a quiet dignity about her that means, even when she’s at her lowest ebb, she doesn’t come across as hopelessly weak – just uncertain and a little vulnerable.

As a romantic hero, Jordan stands out from the regular crop of arrogant man-whores or roguish gambling club owners; he’s scientifically minded, and, in spite of his outwardly grumpy demeanour, rather sweet and perhaps a little introverted.  I also loved the idea that he and Martha had come to know each other through the letters he exchanged with her father;  I’m a big fan of stories in which letters play an important part, and although we only get snippets of the correspondence in the novel, the glimpses we do get are significant and reveal something important about both characters.

The downside is perhaps that the protagonists are a bit too nice, and that the sub-plot concerning Jordan’s friend, Reese, is a little thin and not followed through.  However, I did enjoy the parts of the story that dealt with the torpedo-ship which, per Ms. Ranney’s Author’s Note was something that was actually around at the time, and had been used in a primitive form during the Crimean War.

The English Duke is an entertaining and sweetly romantic story about two misfits finding each other and having to overcome a few bumps along the way. The plot is perhaps a little hackneyed, but the most important thing is that the author has crafted a beautiful sense of emotional intimacy between the central characters, which is, after all, one of the main things I – and I suspect, most of us here – look for in a romance.

The Scottish Duke by Karen Ranney (audiobook) – Narrated by Tim Campbell

the-scottish-duke-audio

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

Though raised as a gentleman’s daughter, Lorna Gordon is obliged to take a position as an upstairs maid at Blackhall Castle when her father dies. Alex Russell, the Duke of Kinross, is the most tempting man she’s ever seen—and completely unattainable—until, at a fancy dress ball, Lorna disguises herself as Marie Antoinette and pursues an illicit tryst…with scandalous consequences.

Months after his mysterious seductress disappears, Alex encounters her again. Far from the schemer the distrustful duke assumed her to be, Lorna is fiercely independent and resourceful. She’s the one woman capable of piercing his defenses. But when danger threatens Lorna, Alex must prove himself not just the lover of her fantasies, but the man who will fight to protect her.

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – B

The Scottish Duke is the first book in a new series from Karen Ranney, and is set in Victorian Scotland on the estate of the eponymous duke, Alexander Russell, Duke of Kinross. Alex is a scientifically minded gentleman – principally interested in the emerging science of fingerprinting – and on the day the book opens has suffered a big professional disappointment; his work was passed over by the Scottish Society for Scientific Achievement. His plan to hide away, sulk and get extremely drunk is going to be difficult to carry out given that he is hosting a grand, fancy-dress ball that evening, but he’s had enough of polite society and is well on the way to being half-cut when he notices the young woman dressed as Marie Antoinette and is immediately intrigued by her stillness. Unlike everyone else who is busy chatting, flirting and dancing, “Marie” is just taking stock of her surroundings, until their gazes meet and Alex decides it’s time to forego the drink and indulge in another of life’s pleasures.

The daughter of a renowned botanist, Lorna Gordon was forced to take work a maid at Blackhall Castle in order to support herself after her father’s death a couple of years earlier. She is infatuated with the Duke of Kinross, who is quite the handsomest man she has ever seen, and when she finds an old costume in the attics, decides to go to the ball in the hopes of seeing him. Her friend, Nan, tries to discourage her, but Lorna won’t be talked out of it; it’s her only chance of ever experiencing a society ball. And perhaps, getting to see the duke up close.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

An American in Scotland (McIain #3) by Karen Ranney

an american in scotland
This title may be purchased from Amazon

Rose MacIain is a beautiful woman with a secret. Desperate and at her wits’ end, she crafts a fake identity for herself, one that Duncan MacIain will be unable to resist. But she doesn’t realize that posing as the widow of the handsome Scotsman’s cousin is more dangerous than she knew. And when a simmering attraction rises up between them, she begins to regret the whole charade.

Duncan is determined to resist the tempting Rose, no matter how much he admires her arresting beauty and headstrong spirit. When he agrees to accompany her on her quest, their desire for each other only burns hotter. The journey tests his resolve as their close quarters fuel the fire that crackles between them.

When the truth comes to light, these two stubborn people must put away their pride and along the way discover that their dreams of love are all they need.

Rating: C

I enjoyed the previous two books in Karen Ranney’s McIain series, so was looking forward to An American in Scotland, which features Duncan MacIain, the steady and dependable owner of the MacIain family’s textile business, and who has appeared as a secondary character in the earlier novels. In the first book, In Your Wildest Scottish Dreams Duncan’s mill was struggling because of the difficulty of obtaining sufficient quantities of cotton from America owing to the Civil War, and the book’s hero, Lennox Cameron, was the owner of a successful ship-building business whose latest venture was building ships to run the blockade around US waters. He wasn’t the only one engaged in such activities, and as a result, Glasgow became a –perhaps unlikely – centre of intrigue, as spies for the Union flooded the city trying to root out Confederate sympathisers and cut off their enemies’ supply lines.

This all provided a fascinating background to the central romance in that book, especially for someone like me who knows little about the history of the American Civil War and even less about Glasgow’s involvement in it. It was clear in that story – just as it is in this one – that Duncan and people like him were not particularly sympathetic to the Confederate cause, but that they needed to do what they must in order to maintain their own livelihoods and those of the people who depended on them.

That aspect of the historical background features strongly in this latest addition to the series, as Rose O’Sullivan risks life and limb to run the blockade in order to travel to Scotland to sell the last of the cotton produced by her brother-in-law’s plantation to his Scottish cousin. Born in New York, Rose went to live at the Glengarden plantation outside Charleston with her sister Claire when she married its owner, Bruce MacIain.

When Rose arrives at the home of the Scottish branch of the family, she is exhausted and half-starved, nervous at not knowing what to expect and terrified because this is her last hope of providing for her family back at home. When the MacIains make the assumption that she is the widow of their American cousin Bruce, who has gone off to fight for the South, she doesn’t correct them, believing it best Duncan believes she has the right to sell the cotton by right of her supposed marriage. She knows that repaying the MacIains for their kindness with deception is a horrible thing to do, but if she can’t persuade Duncan to not only purchase the cotton, but to then run the blockade in order to retrieve it, her family will likely starve.

The first third or so of the book takes place in Scotland while Rose waiting anxiously for Duncan’s decision, with the rest of it covering the events of their journey to retrieve the cotton and their experiences at Glengarden. The journey is a dangerous one, made moreso when, in Nassau, Duncan is told that their ship is under surveillance and that orders have been given for its capture. And then there is the fact that Bruce, who has returned from the war minus a leg, hates Rose implacably for many reasons, not least of which are her sympathy for and kindness to the plantation slaves and her refusal to defer to him and bend to his wishes as every “good” Southern woman should do to the men around her.

Rose is an admirable character who has endured much for her beliefs and who refused to break, even when she was beaten, whipped and forced to work in the fields alongside the slaves. I liked her strength and courage, but the problem is that we are told, over and over and over about what Rose endured at Glengarden, about what a total bastard Bruce is, about her sympathy for the slaves, about the decadence and superficiality of the Southern lifestyle, about how Rose isn’t demure and submissive… honestly, if I was told once, I was told ten times and while it was interesting the first couple of times, the continual repetition really slows the pacing and disrupts the flow of the story.

Duncan is a decent hero, but isn’t fully fleshed out as a character. He’s kind, decent, responsible, and, perhaps, regarded as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud by his family. By the end of the book, he’s thinking about how much more adventurous he’s become since meeting Rose, but overall, he’s pretty bland.

My other major issue with the book is that for a romance, it doesn’t have much romance in it! I reached 35% on my Kindle, and Rose and Duncan had interacted only a few times. By that time, she’s been in Glasgow for a few weeks, and we’re told that she is attracted to Duncan and he to her, but I wasn’t shown that, and I certainly didn’t feel it. In fact, there is very little chemistry between them, and the romance, such as it is, is low key and not at all well developed. Both characters are straightforward, decent people, so there is no inner conflict to propel their relationship forward, or to provide those little lumps and bumps along the way which we like to watch them work out. It’s true that they are in a potentially life-threatening situation, but they have no control over that, and other than to make them go through that whole “let’s shag, for tomorrow we could die!” thing, it doesn’t have much bearing on their relationship.

Ultimately, I’m afraid that An American in Scotland proved to be a real slog and was tough to finish. I had to force myself to actually read rather than skim large sections of it because of the amount of repetition, and was disappointed at the lack of any real emotional connection between the hero and heroine, which ultimately led to my feeling rather disconnected from the novel as a whole. If I’d been grading the book solely as a romance, I doubt it would have scraped a C-, but because the writing is so strong, and the historical background so well-researched and interesting, I’m upping it to a C.

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Scotsman of My Dreams (MacIain #2) by Karen Ranney (audiobook) – Narrated by John Lee

scotsman of my dreams audio

Once the ton’s most notorious rake, Dalton MacIain has returned from his expedition to America during the Civil War – wounded and a changed man. Instead of returning to his old haunts, he now spends his time at home. But Dalton’s peace is disturbed when Minerva Todd barges into his London townhouse, insisting he help search for her missing brother, Neville. Though Dalton would love to spend more time with the bewitching beauty, he has no interest in finding Neville, whom he blames for his injury.

Minerva has never met a more infuriating man than the earl of Rathsmere, yet she is intrigued by the torrid rumors she has heard about him…and the fierce attraction pulling her toward him.

Dalton does not count on Minerva’s persistence or the desire she awakens in him, compelling him to discover her brother’s fate. But when danger surrounds them, Dalton fears he will lose the tantalizing, thoroughly unpredictable woman he has come to love.

Rating: B for narration; B- for content

The second in Karen Ranney’s current MacIain series, Scotsman of My Dreams is an enjoyable character-driven romance in which the reclusive, wounded hero meets the unusual young woman who is destined to help him rebuild his life.

Hellraiser Dalton MacIain, bored with the predictability of his life in London and wanting excitement, left England with a group of followers in order to fight in the American Civil War. Deciding which side to fight for on the toss of a coin, five, including Dalton, fought for the Union while the remaining seven men joined the Confederate army. Dalton very soon learned that the gruesome realities of war were a far cry from the glory and adventure he had anticipated, and is contemplating a return home when he is shot in the face, losing one eye and the sight in the other. Following months of convalescence in America, he returns home to be greeted with the news that his older brother has been killed in a hunting accident, and that he, Dalton, is now the Earl of Rathsmere.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

In Your Wildest Scottish Dreams by Karen Ranney (audiobook) – narrated by Ralph Lister

in your wildest scottish dreams

Seven years have passed since Glynis MacIain made the foolish mistake of declaring her love to Lennox Cameron, only to have him stare at her dumbfounded. Heartbroken, she accepted the proposal of a diplomat and moved to America, where she played the role of a dutiful wife among Washington’s elite. Now a widow, Glynis is back in Scotland. Though Lennox can still unravel her with just one glance, Glynis is no longer the naïve girl Lennox knew and vows to resist him.

With the American Civil War raging, shipbuilder Lennox Cameron must complete a sleek new blockade runner for the Confederate Navy. He cannot afford any distractions, especially the one woman he’s always loved. Glynis’s cool demeanor tempts him to prove to her what a terrible mistake she made seven years ago.

As the war casts its long shadow across the ocean, will a secret from Glynis’s past destroy any chance for a future between the two star-crossed lovers?

Rating: B- for narration; B for content

In Your Wildest Scottish Dreams is the first in a new series from this popular author, and is set in Scotland in the 1860s. As well as having an intriguing historical background, it features a second-chance romance, which is a favourite trope of mine; and the audiobook version is narrated by Ralph Lister, someone I’ve listened to before and wanted to hear again.

Glynis MacIain has been in love with her brother’s best friend, Lennox Cameron, ever since she was a girl. Aged nineteen, she declares herself – but before he can respond, Lennox allows himself to be called away and Glynis is heartbroken, seeing his actions as rejection. She then hears rumours that he is about to announce his betrothal and runs away to London in despair where she marries an up-and-coming diplomat who is very soon posted abroad.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

A 2014 Retrospective

I was going to write a “favourite books of 2014” or “best books of 2014” post or something of that nature, but then realised that I’ve written and contributed to a number of those, so I’m doing something different here.

cat_asleep_on_bookSo instead, I’m stealing an idea from the lovely Wendy the Super Librarian and have been looking through my Goodreads Stats to see how my ratings panned out across the year. Because I review a large number of new and current releases, the majority of the books I read in 2014 were published in 2014, but I managed to squeeze in a few others. And because Goodreads counts print/ebooks and audiobooks of the same title as two different books, while my total for the year was 231, it’s probably closer to 180 different books.

Looking through my stats (and if I’ve counted correctly!) the majority of my reading and listening fell within the 4/5 star bracket, which is pretty good going.

I gave 34 books and 19 audiobooks 5 stars (some will have been 4.5 stars rounded up) A/A-
I gave 63 books and 32 audiobooks 4 stars (some will have been 4.5 stars rounded down) B+/B
I gave 43 books and 15 audiobooks 3 stars (some will have been 3.5 stars rounded down) B-/C+/C
I gave 14 books and 2 audiobooks 2 stars C-/D+/D
I gave 3 books and two audiobooks 1 star (one of the books was a DNF, as was one of the audiobooks, because the narration was utterly dire.)

Putting together the list of books to which I gave a 5 star/A rating, it’s interesting to see that I’ve rated as many audio books at that level as I have printed books. Obviously, when rating an audiobook, I take the narration into account too – and if you look closely, you’ll see there are three names that crop up repeatedly as the narrators on those audiobooks; Nicholas Boulton, Rosalyn Landor and Kate Reading, who are, quite simply, three of the best narrators around when it comes to historical romance. In many cases, these are audiobooks where I may have rated the story at a A- or B+, but the narration is so good that the overall rating is bumped up. Of course, even the best narrator can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, so even in those audios where the story isn’t quite at the five star level, it’s not going to be a dud!

The reviews are linked to the titles below the images.

5 star books:

 


Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh
Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne
Douglas: Lord of Heartache by Grace Burrowes
The Captive and The Traitor by Grace Burrowes
Prospero’s Daughter by Nancy Butler
Vixen in Velvet by Loretta Chase
At Your Pleasure by Meredith Duran
Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran
Mr (Not Quite) Perfect by Jessica Hart
Marrying the Royal Marine by Carla Kelly
Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean
The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan
The King’s Falcon by Stella Riley
It Takes Two to Tangle by Theresa Romain
Shadow Lover by Anne Stuart
The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas

5 star Audiobooks:


The Escape by Mary Balogh & Rosalyn Landor
The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne & Kirsten Potter
The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne & Kirsten Potter
Captives of the Night by Loretta Chase & Kate Reading
Lord of Scoundrels Loretta Chase & Kate Reading
Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase & Kate Reading
A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare & Carolyn Morris
Arabella by Georgette Heyer & Phyllida Nash
The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer & Georgina Sutton
The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer & Daniel Philpott
Venetia by Georgette Heyer & Phillida Nash
The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale & Nicholas Boulton
Uncertain Magic by Laura Kinsale & Nicholas Boulton
The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan & Rosalyn Landor
The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan & Rosalyn Landor
It Takes Two to Tangle by Theresa Romain & Michelle Ford
Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James & Mary Jane Wells
His at Night by Sherry Thomas & Kate Reading<
The Mask of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig & Kate Reading

Honourable Mentions:

– go to books and audios I’ve rated at 4.5 stars/A-/B+, but which I’ve rounded up to five because while there might have been something that niggled at me, it was a damn good book and felt closer to 5 stars than 4. Or just a book that, despite a few flaws, I really enjoyed.


The Boleyn Reckoning by Laura Andersen
The Laird by Grace Burrowes
The MacGregor’s Lady by Grace Burrowes & Roger Hampton
Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase & Kate Reading
Firelight by Kristen Callihan & Moira Quirk
When the Duke Was Wicked by Lorraine Heath
The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt
A Grave Matter by Anna Lee Huber
Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James
Strangers at the Altar by Marguerite Kaye
Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner
It Takes a Scandal by Caroline Linden
Till We Next Meet by Karen Ranney
Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn
The Devil’s Waltz by Anne Stuart
The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas

I think it’s fair to say I had a pretty good year, reading-wise, with a high proportion of books I’d describe as good or better, and not too many “meh” or dire ones. (Although where would we be without the odd turkey to snark about?)

The first crop of 2015 releases looks promising; I’m taking part in a few challenges next year as well, which I’ll post about soon so I can keep track and I’m looking forward to my next year of reading, listening and reviewing.

How did you do last year?

Till Next We Meet by Karen Ranney

Till Next Meet

Catherine Dunnan is devastated when her beloved goes off to war – and only his promise to write often can sustain her in her loneliness. And what letters they are, filled with heartfelt emotions that move her to respond in kind. But then the unthinkable occurs. He is cruelly lost to her, and his beautiful words of passion and devotion cease forever.

When Moncrief agreed to write warm and loving missives in a fellow officer’s name, he never expected he’d become so enamored of the incomparable lady who answered them, a woman he has never met. Returning to England to assume the unexpected title of duke, Moncrief is irresistibly drawn to the beauty who has unwittingly won his heart. More than anything, he yearns to ease Catherine’s sadness with his tender kisses. But once she learns his secret, will his love be spurned?.

Rating: A-

I chose this book in response to one of the prompts for the AAR Days of the Week Reading Challenge, which was for Wednesday – Read an epistolary novel, or a book where letters, phone, text or email messages are relevant to the story.

I like epistolary novels in general – I’ve read several classics like Fanny Burney’s Evelina or Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses, but I haven’t read too many when it comes to more recently written titles, so this was a prompt I was keen to take up. I had a few options on hand to choose from: Laura Kinsale’s My Sweet Folly or Connie Brockway’s My Dearest Enemy are both books in which letters exchanged by the central characters play an important part, but in the end, I went for Karen Ranney’s Till Next We Meet, which has a flavour of Cyrano de Bergerac about it.

Moncrief (and I’m never sure whether that’s his first or last name, as he’s rarely referred to as anything else), a Colonel in the British army serving in Canada has, for some months, been writing to the wife of one of his officers – Captain Harry Dunnant – because the man can’t be bothered to do so himself. It’s not as though Moncrief makes a habit of doing such things, but the letter Harry laughingly tosses at him touches him deeply; Catherine Dunnant pours her heart and soul into her letters and Moncrief is able to discern the loneliness that often lies beneath her words. This speaks to something deep inside him: Moncrief is a respected officer and commander, but he has been in the army and away from home for fourteen years, doesn’t have any strong family ties and is a very lonely man at heart. He tells himself at the outset that he will simply respond to Mrs Dunnant’s letter in order to allay her fears about her husband, but when she writes in response, he is unable to resist the temptation to continue their correspondence, even though he knows it is ill-advised. Months pass, and Moncrief comes to realise that he has fallen in love with the witty, generous and loving woman who shines through in the letters. The correspondence has to come to an abrupt end with Harry Dunnant’s death, and Moncrief believes that the letter he writes to Catherine, advising her of her husband’s demise will be his last.

Some months later sees Moncrief travelling back to his home of Balidonough in Scotland as the newly minted Duke of Lymond. A third son, he had never expected to inherit lands and title, but his years in the army have most definitely prepared him for running a large estate and directing lots of servants as well as imbuing him with an air of authority and command. On his way home, he cannot resist paying a visit to Catherine Dunnant’s home – and is shocked to find an unkempt and somewhat addled young woman still in the throes of deep grieving who is clearly being seriously neglected.

Returning the following day, Moncrief finds Catherine near death from a laudanum overdose. It’s touch and go but he saves her life – only to be accused by the local vicar of compromising her. Without stopping to question his motives too much, Moncrief marries her and removes her to Balidonough as soon as she is well enough.

Catherine is still in an agony of grief over Harry’s death and doesn’t remember her re-marriage or, in fact, remember much of anything. She immediately senses that Moncrief is a good man, and finds his assertion that he married her because she needed rescuing to be somewhat disconcerting – but is not ready to surrender her heartache and make a new life for herself.

Till Next We Meet is a terrific story, beautifully told. Moncrief is a hero to die for – he’s already more than half in love with Catherine right from the start, and isn’t afraid to admit it to himself. Outwardly, he’s autocratic and severe, but we already know from his letters that inside, he’s tender-hearted and rather romantic. His self-confidence and competence are immediately attractive, as is the fact that he takes his new responsibilities seriously, cares deeply about his land and dependents, and wants to make their lives better. One of the things I really enjoyed about the way the author portrays him is that we don’t get a physical description of him until Catherine starts to see him clearly, and then after that, that each time we see him through her eyes, she notices more and more about his physical presence and how absolutely gorgeous he is. (He’s the hero of a romance – it’s a given he’s gorgeous!) But of course, he’s gorgeous on the inside, too, and that’s the man Catherine fell in love with, sight unseen.

While Catherine starts out as rather a pathetic figure, a woman whose (misplaced) grief is so strong that she is careless of her own life, as she recovers and gains strength, both the reader and Moncrief begin to see once again the young woman who wrote those beautiful letters, so full of love and longing. I appreciate that the author doesn’t have her railing against her marriage and accusing Moncrief of all sorts of iniquity – she accepts the situation, and realises that sooner or later, she is going to have to make something of it. She does, however, have her own, subtle ways of letting her new husband know that she’s not ecstatic about their hasty marriage, such as continuing to wear her widow’s weeds, and the fact that she sleeps with “Harry’s” letters beneath her pillow. But as the story progresses, she begins to regain her spirit, and I was almost cheering at the point in the story when she finally snaps and tells some obnoxious guests and relatives where to get off.

There are hints throughout the story that perhaps Catherine’s near-death from an overdose had not been an accident, and later, an incident at Balidonough seems to suggest that either Moncrief or Catherine is in danger, but the author has kept the mystery element of the story very low key, giving priority to the relationship developing between her central couple. So it comes as rather a surprise – and one which I enjoyed – to find the tension ramping up in the later chapters as the plot and culprit are revealed.

The relationship between Moncrief and Catherine is beautifully developed and presented, with Catherine gradually coming to appreciate Moncrief’s sterling qualities and to value his company and his affection. The sexual tension between the couple builds slowly, and because Catherine has asked for time to get to know Moncrief better before consummating the marriage, it’s fairly late in the story before things progress from heated looks and touches. But when it does, the passion between them is almost uncontrollable, and it’s well worth the wait 😉 My one criticism is that it took too long for Moncrief to own up to the fact that he is the author of “Harry’s” letters; he is given several opportunities throughout the book to fess up, but each time, he shies away from it for no really compelling reason that I could fathom.

Fortunately however, this is a minor niggle, because the rest of the story really is excellent. The characterisation is strong all-round, with even the minor characters being fully-rounded, and the author has created an atmosphere that is sombre without being depressing or gloomy. The loneliness endured by both Moncrief and Catherine is vividly evoked, and their gradual coming together is a true delight to read; they are so deserving of happiness in their lives that the pleasure and contentment they eventually find with each other feels as though it has been fully earned.