Someone to Remember (Westcott #7) by Mary Balogh

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It’s never too late to fall in love . . .

Matilda Westcott has spent her life tending to the needs of her mother, the Dowager Countess of Riverdale, never questioning the web of solitude she has spun herself. To Matilda, who considers herself an aging spinster daughter, marriage is laughable – love is a game for the young, after all. But her quiet, ordered life unravels when a dashing gentleman from her past reappears, threatening to charm his way into her heart yet again.

Charles Sawyer, Viscount Dirkson, does not expect to face Matilda Westcott thirty-six years after their failed romance. Moreover, he does not expect decades-old feelings to emerge at the very sight of her. When encountering Matilda at a dinner hosted by the Earl of Riverdale, he finds himself as fascinated by her as he was the first day they met, and wonders whether, after all these years, they have a chance at happiness together. Charles is determined to crack the hard exterior Matilda has built up for more than three decades, or he will risk losing her once again . . .

Rating: B

Someone to Remember is the seventh (and penultimate?) instalment in Mary Balogh’s Westcott saga, which has followed the fortunes of the various members of the large and close-knit Westcott family after the discovery that the late Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale, had committed bigamy and that his second marriage was therefore invalid.  This discovery naturally had serious repercussions; his son and two daughters lost titles, fortunes and status; his widow couldn’t even claim to have been a wife, and the earldom diverted to a cousin who didn’t want it. Through six books, readers have followed the fortunes of various family members in the wake of these events, and now we come to Matilda, Humphrey’s older sister, a woman of mature years – fifty-six – who has appeared throughout the series as the dutiful spinster aunt who fusses over her mother because it’s something to do and has gradually faded into the background.

In order to understand the relationship in Someone to Remember, it’s necessary to refer back to the previous book in the series, Someone to Honor, so please be aware that this review contains spoilers for that book. Lieutenant Colonel Gilbert Bennington returned from fighting at Waterloo to discover his late wife had left their four-year-old daughter in the care of her parents, who are now refusing to return her to his care. Although Gil was an officer, his illegitimacy and humble origins made him unacceptable to his in-laws; his father was a nobleman – Viscount Dirkson – but his mother was the daughter of a blacksmith who refused all offers of support from the viscount, and allowed Gil to believe that he had washed his hands of them.  When Gil joined the army, Dirkson purchased a commission for him, but after that Gil made it clear that he wanted nothing more to do with him.

But when Abigail Westcott married Gil, the entire Westcott clan naturally became interested in the situation; and when Matilda learned that Dirkson was Gil’s father, she took the unprecedented – and rather scandalous – step of paying a call upon the gentleman at his home in order to ask him to speak for Gil at the upcoming custody hearing.  It was clear from the moment Dirkson’s name was mentioned that he and Matilda had some shared history, and it’s soon revealed that they had once been in love and hoped to marry, but that Matilda’s parents had opposed the match and persuaded her to give him up.

When Someone to Remember opens, Alex, the Earl of Riverdale, announces that he has invited the viscount to dinner by way of thanks for his help and support in the custody case.  Matilda is profoundly unsettled by this turn of events, but puts a brave face on it, telling herself that she can manage to spend one evening in company with the man with whom she’d once been deeply in love.  She already knows he has aged well, that he’s still handsome and vital, whereas she herself has become somewhat drab and disregarded, especially by her mother, who almost never has a kind word to say to or about her.

Dirkson is hugely conflicted over seeing Matilda again.  On the one hand, he’s angry with her for stirring up emotions he’d thought long dead and buried, but on the other, he can’t seem to stay away from her.  But his anger soon turns from being directed towards Matilda to anger on her behalf when he realizes how invisible she has become to her family.  They don’t mistreat her or ignore her, but none of them really see her:

She was a person by God, even if she was past the age of fifty.  Even if she was a spinster.  She deserved a life.

Someone to Remember is a gentle, charming story of love lost and found.  There’s not a lot of plot, but Mary Balogh excels when it comes to exploring emotions, character and relationships, and she packs quite a lot of that into the short page-count as Matilda and Charles think back on their youthful relationship, ponder their mis-steps and how their choices have shaped their lives ever since.  The best thing about the story, though, is watching Matilda transform from a woman who had dwindled into a shadow of her former self into one revitalised by love and happiness. When we first met her earlier in the series, she came across as a rather stereotypical spinster aunt, somewhat fussy and always on the verge of reaching for the smelling salts, but as the series has progressed, she has been revealed to be a more complex character, one with a dry wit and sense of humour that is perhaps a little rusty from disuse, and a woman with a mind of her own who is compassionate and deeply loyal to her family and those she loves.  Fellow reviewer Janet Webb wrote an interesting piece on Matilda’s presence and influence throughout the series, and if you’ve read it, many of the pointers to the things that have brought Matilda to this point in life have been dotted throughout the series like a trail of breadcrumbs, and it’s been masterfully done.

Dirkson’s backstory isn’t one filled with sunshine and roses either.  After Matilda rejected him, he went off the rails a little (and had the affair that produced Gil) and earned himself a reputation as a rake of the first order.  His marriage was arranged and while not unhappy, was not one in which either party felt love or passion for the other (he was wayward and she had no real interest in men) but the connection he feels to Matilda has endured and starts coming back to life as he realises that he very much wants to take advantage of the second chance life is offering him.

There’s an engaging secondary cast consisting of the younger generation of Westcotts, I enjoyed watching Matilda’s mother admit to having made a mistake when she talked her daughter out of marrying Dirkson -and for anyone wondering about the state of Gil’s relationship with his father, there’s more on that, too.  Someone to Remember is a quiet story but a satisfying one that shows it’s never too late to find – or rekindle – love.

Note: The Amazon listing says this is 272 pages (and it’s priced accordingly), but Someone to Remember is a novella of around 110 pages; the rest of the page count is taken up with sample chapters of other books in the series.

Someone to Honour (Westcott #6) by Mary Balogh (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Abigail Westcott’s dreams for her future were lost when her father died and she discovered her parents were not legally married. But now, six years later, she enjoys the independence a life without expectation provides a wealthy single woman. Indeed, she’s grown confident enough to scold the careless servant chopping wood outside without his shirt on in the proximity of ladies. But the man is not a servant. He is Gilbert Bennington, the lieutenant colonel and superior officer who has escorted her wounded brother, Harry, home from the wars with Napoleon.

Gil has come to help his friend and junior officer recover, and he doesn’t take lightly to being condescended to – secretly because of his own humble beginnings. If at first Gil and Abigail seem to embody what the other most despises, each will soon discover how wrong first impressions can be. For behind the appearances of the once-grand lady and the once-humble man are two people who share an understanding of what true honor means, and how only with it can one find love.

Rating: Narration: A; Content: B-

The heroine of Someone to Honor, the sixth book in Mary Balogh’s series about the Westcott family is Abigail Westcott, the younger daughter of the late Earl of Riverdale. She was approaching her come out and her eighteenth birthday when her father was discovered to have married her mother bigamously, meaning that she and her siblings – sister Camille and brother Harry – were illegitimate and that Harry could not inherit the Riverdale title (which passed to their cousin, Alex). Abby is now twenty-four, and has spent most of the six intervening years resisting her family’s urging to resume her life in society and find a husband. Although at the time, the news of her family’s change of status was hugely upsetting, she now realises that what happened has set her free in a way she could never have imagined being before. Without the pressure of having to conform to society’s expectations of the daughter of an earl, Abby has been able to take the time to discover who she truly is as a person and to work out what she really wants in life – and has found that the idea of remaining unmarried is no longer as scary as it was six years earlier when she was expected to make a match befitting her status. As her mother and siblings had to forge their own paths to happiness, so Abby has begun to forge hers – the trouble is convincing her loving, well-meaning but sometimes misguided family that she knows what she’s doing.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Someone to Trust (Westcott #5) by Mary Balogh (audiobook) – Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

During a rare white Christmas at Brambledean Court, the widow Elizabeth, Lady Overfield, defies convention by falling in love with a younger man in the latest novel in the Westcott series.

After her husband’s passing, Elizabeth Overfield decides she must enter into another suitable marriage. That, however, is the last thing on her mind when she meets Colin Handrich, Lord Hodges, at the Westcott Christmas house party. She simply enjoys his company as they listen to carolers on Christmas Eve, walk home from church together on Christmas morning, and engage in a spirited snowball fight in the afternoon.

Both are surprised when their sled topples them into a snowbank and they end up sharing an unexpected kiss. They know there is no question of any relationship between them, for she is nine years older than him.

They return to London the following Season, both committed to finding other more suitable matches. Still, they agree to share one waltz at each ball they attend. This innocuous agreement proves to be one that will topple their worlds, as each dance steadily ensnares them in a romance that forces the two to question what they are willing to sacrifice for love…

Rating: Narration – A : Content – B-

Someone to Trust is the fifth of Mary Balogh’s novels about the Westcott family, and it’s probably not the place to jump into the series. The author does undertake a “previously on The Westcotts” recap in the opening chapter (which is a bit clumsy and info-dumpy), but I’m not going to attempt it here and will assume that if you’re interested in listening to Someone to Trust, you’ve listened to at least one of the previous books and have a rough idea of who is who.

It’s Christmas and the Westcott family is gathered together at the family seat to celebrate the holiday and the marriage of Viola, the former Countess of Riverdale (as told in the previous book, Someone to Care). Lady Elizabeth Overfield, sister of Alex, the Earl of Riverdale, has been a widow for a few years, and seeing her large family, with its happy, recently married couples, brings home to her just how lonely she is. Her marriage was not a happy one (her husband was a drunkard who abused her emotionally and physically), but that doesn’t deter her from thinking that perhaps it’s time for her to remarry.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: Tempting Harriet by Mary Balogh

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Harriet, Lady Wingham, widowed after a four-year marriage to an older man, takes her young daughter to London to stay with friends. There she becomes reacquainted with the Duke of Tenby, the man who broke her heart six years earlier when he offered her carte blanche instead of marriage. This time he has honorable intentions toward her, but Harriet misunderstands and impulsively agrees to become his mistress for a short while until she returns home. And so begins an affair disastrous to them both, for their feelings for each other cannot be satisfied by such a casual and clandestine arrangement.

Rating: C+

Tempting Harriet is the final book in a trio which are all linked through the friendships between their heroes and heroines.  It’s an older Balogh title (originally published in 1994), and there are elements within it that I suspect some readers may find problematic today; but the author’s emotional intelligence and insight into what makes people tick is operating at full force, presenting a couple of principal characters who are flawed and who make ill-advised decisions and judgements before they are able to reach their HEA.

I’ll admit now that this month’s prompt – to read a book with a lovely or hideous cover – rather stumped me. I read pretty much exclusively on a Kindle these days, so I don’t take a great deal of notice of covers; plus reading a lot of historical romance, I’m used to the half-naked, man-titty covers that are de rigueur in the genre and usually just roll my eyes and move on to the actual words.  I do, however, rather like the minimalistic covers that have been given to these first-time digital re-issues of Mary Balogh’s Signet Regencies.  On its own, I suppose the new cover for Tempting Harriet might be a little dull (and the colour isn’t my favourite), but taken together, they’re quite striking because they’re so simple and uncluttered.  So that’s my excuse for picking this one, and I’m sticking to it!

Six years before this story begins, Miss Harriet Pope, daughter of an impoverished country parson, was working as companion to Clara Sullivan (heroine of Dancing With Clara) when she caught the eye of the young and handsome Lord Archibald Vinney, heir to the Duke of Tenby.  Thrown much into his company because he was the best friend of Clara’s husband, Harriet fell head-over-heels in love, but rejected Vinney’s offer of carte blanche not once, but twice, even though she was terribly tempted to do otherwise. A couple of years later, she  met and married a kind, gentle man in his fifties who wasn’t in the best of health, but whom she liked and came to love.  Now aged twenty-eight and a wealthy widow with a young daughter, Lady Harriet Wingham has emerged from her mourning period and has decided to enter London society and experience some of the things she was never able to do before – go to balls and parties and musicales and perhaps find herself another husband… and she can’t help hoping that perhaps she might set eyes on Lord Vinney again.

That gentleman is now the Duke of Tenby, and being young, wealthy, handsome, titled and unattached, is the most eligible bachelor on the marriage mart.  Like many gentlemen of his ilk (and many historical romance heroes!) he has eschewed marriage for as long as possible but now, owing to a promise he made to his grandmother following his accession to the title, is going to look about him for a suitable wife.  His grandmother’s definition of ‘suitable’ is rigid; in addition to all the usual qualities a nobleman must have in a wife – she must be a gently-bred virgin with proper manners and the training to run a large household and estates – she must also be of appropriate rank, and in the dowager’s eyes, that means that no lady below the rank of an earl’s daughter will do for the Duke of Tenby.

But fate throws a spoke in the wheel of Tenby’s matrimonial plans when he sees Harriet again for the first time in six years, and finds himself utterly smitten all over again.  Harriet has no idea that after she rejected his suggestion she become his mistress six years earlier, he’d been about to overturn all the things that had been drilled into him by his family and upbringing about his duty to the title, and offer her marriage.  He stopped short, believing then that he was merely in the grips of powerful lust, although now he is fairly certain he was in love with her… and though he tries to deny it, still is.

The storyline is a familiar one – the hero has to court one woman while in love with another – but Mary Balogh doesn’t make it easy for Harriet and Tenby and examines their motivations and feelings with scalpel-like precision.  The real meat of the plot is based upon a misunderstanding, and yet it’s one that I can’t quite classify as the ‘typical Big Mis’ so often found in romance novels.  Yes, things could have been solved by a conversation, but that wouldn’t have been true to character for either Harriet or Tenby at the point in the story at which it occurs.  Because while Tenby has decided he’s going to offer marriage regardless of his promise to his grandmother, Harriet forestalls him and, believing he’s going to offer carte blanche again, says that she’ll accept him as her lover.  She knows he can’t possibly marry her, the widow of a lowly baron, but she’s unwilling to let the opportunity to experience passion with the man she’s loved for so long slip by this time.  And while Tenby is pleased that he’ll at last have Harriet in his bed, part of him is really upset that she’s given in this time when she wouldn’t before.

This is just one of the things I referred to as being problematic.  It’s obvious that Tenby has put Harriet on some pedestal labelled “virtuous woman”, and when she offers to sleep with him without marriage, she falls off it, he’s disappointed – and it’s a horrible double standard.  Tenby is often cold and unpleasant towards Harriet – seeming to blame her for the fact that he’s attracted to her – and the terms of their affair are completely dictated by him.  This is understandable in the circumstances, as is the fact that he has a house he uses specifically for the purpose of conducting love affairs – many an historical romance hero has a hidden love nest – and I wondered if perhaps it was the author’s intent to deliberately show Tenby’s bad qualities so she could eventually redeem him.

I’m not sure if she really managed that in the end.  Her exploration of the emotions experienced by Harriet and Tenby during the course of their affair is incredibly well done, and nobody does this sort of relationship angst quite like Mary Balogh.  Ultimately, neither character is happy about their relationship being based simply on physical pleasure, both want more but believe the other is content with things as they are.  And thinking that all Harriet wants from him is sex, Tenby continues his courtship of an eminently suitable earl’s daughter while Harriet starts to despise herself because she’s compromised her beliefs.

It’s messy and complicated, and in spite of its problems, Tempting Harriet was one of those books I found myself quite glued to almost in spite of myself.  It’s a difficult one to grade because on the one hand the writing is excellent and the characters, who are both flawed (Tenby moreso than Harriet, it’s true) nonetheless feel like real people who operate within the strict societal conventions of the time.  On the other, Tenby can be unsympathetic, and sometimes Harriet’s internal hand-wringing gets a bit wearing.  So I’m going with a C+ – not a universal recommendation, but will end with the suggestion that those who enjoy angsty stories peopled by imperfect characters whose motivations are skilfully  peeled back layer by layer might care to give it a try.

Someone to Care (Westcott #4) by Mary Balogh

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Two years after the death of the Earl of Riverdale, his family has overcome the shame of being stripped of their titles and fortune–except for his onetime countess, Viola. With her children grown and herself no longer part of the social whirl of the ton, she is uncertain where to look for happiness–until quite by accident her path crosses once again with that of the Marquess of Dorchester, Marcel Lamarr.

Marcel Lamarr has been a notorious womanizer since the death of his wife nearly twenty years earlier. Viola caught his eye when she herself was a young mother, but she evaded his seduction at the time. A prize that eluded him before, she is all the more irresistible to him now although he is surprised to discover that she is as eager now for the excitement he offers as he is himself.

When the two defy convention and run away together, they discover that the ties of respectability are not so easily severed, and pleasure can ensnare you when you least expect it.

Rating: B+

This fourth book in Mary Balogh’s Westcott series is a gently moving and beautifully observed story about a woman trying to define herself and her purpose in life after the death of the man she had believed, for more than twenty years, to be her husband.  Readers familiar with the series will recall that the Westcotts were thrown into upheaval by the revelation that the head of the family, the Earl of Riverdale, had contracted his second marriage bigamously, rendering his son and two daughters illegitimate and his wife… not his wife at all.

Viola Kingsley had, when a much younger woman, been pretty much sold into marriage to Humphrey, the Ear of Riverdale, who was in desperate need of her large dowry.  For more than twenty years, she had been the perfect wife, mother and countess; composed, confident, poised and dignified, she had been widely respected and, in spite of the fact that her marriage was not at all happy, she had a comfortable life, children she adored, friends and such occupation as she desired.

Two years earlier, however, she discovered that her life had been based on a lie, that she was not and had never been the Countess of Riverdale at all, but that she had lived in sin with the Earl for more than two decades.  In shame and humiliation, and shunned by society, she fled with her daughters, Camille and Abigail, to her mother’s home in Bath and then, with Camille about to be married, Viola left Abigail with her mother and went to live with her brother, a country vicar, and re-assumed her maiden name.  But she couldn’t remain with her brother forever – and when she was reunited with the family, was surprised and touched when her husband’s legitimate daughter Anna (the Duchess of Netherby) asked her to return, with Abigail, to her previous home at Hinsford.  Viola has been a mess of roiling emotions for the past couple of years; feeling she has no right to be counted as one of the Westcott family, she has repeatedly tried to distance herself from them, only to be brought back to the fold by the generous and sympathetic group of people who, regardless of legalities, continue to regard Viola as one of their own.

At the end of the previous book, Someone to Wed, we learned that Viola had, without telling anyone where she was going, absented herself from the family gathering celebrating the birth of Camille’s son.  But Viola has finally snapped.  The love and acceptance she has encountered from her not-family is stifling her, and although she knows she is being incredibly ungrateful, she just can’t bear to be around them.  For two years she has tried to disappear into the background, maintaining a façade of quiet acceptance, internalising her own pain and suffering – and she can’t do it any more. She needs to figure out who and what she is – she has spent her forty-two years being a countess, a wife, a daughter, a mother… but who is she now?

When the hired carriage she is travelling in needs to be repaired, Viola breaks her journey at an inn, where she encounters someone she hasn’t seen in almost fifteen years – the austerely handsome and compellingly attractive Mr. Marcel Lamar, a man whose reputation as an inveterate womaniser has only grown over the years.  Their last encounter had been at a ball when Viola, who was deeply infatuated with Marc, but was nonetheless a faithful wife in spite of the unhappiness of her marriage, had rebuffed his flirtation and told him in no uncertain terms to leave her alone – and he took her at her word.

Marc has, for the past two years, been the Marquess of Dorchester, although it appears that Viola is unaware of this and still refers to him as “Mr.” – he doesn’t bother to correct her.  He is widely known to be a rake, reputed to be a man without a heart and doesn’t put himself out for anyone or anything.  He has stopped at an inn on his way to pay one of his semi-annual visits to his country seat where he will spend a couple of days with his twins, Bertrand and Estelle who are nearing their eighteenth birthdays, and then he will disappear back to London and his own life, leaving them in the capable hands of their aunt, to whom he entrusted them following his young wife’s death almost twenty years previously.

He is somewhat surprised to recognise Viola when she arrives at the inn, and not at all surprised to find that he is as attracted to her now as he was the last time he’d seen her.   They strike up a conversation and agree to spend the next day together, and Marc delights in watching Viola gradually breaking out of her carefully constructed shell of dignity and propriety to reveal a woman with a wonderful sense of the ridiculous, who does not stand on ceremony and, he suspects, is possessed of hidden depths of passion he very much hopes to explore.

If you’ve read the synopsis, you’ll know that Viola and Marc agree to run away together to indulge in a brief affair.  Both are running from their families for different reasons, which, in Marc’s case, prove to be especially heartbreaking.  For almost twenty years, he has denied himself the love and affection of his children and those around him because of the burden of guilt he carries over the death of his wife, believing himself to be an unworthy and unfit father.  He has deliberately isolated himself, indulging only in physical relationships and thinking himself incapable of falling in love… although of course, what Ms. Balogh does brilliantly is to show him doing just that while completely unaware of what’s happening –  or at least in very deep denial about it.

Equally brilliant is the way Ms. Balogh has so perfectly captured and conveyed Viola’s situation.  She needs time and space to work out who she is and where she goes from here, and much as she loves her daughters and other members of her extended family and feels guilty for not wanting to be with them, she knows she can’t continue as she has been doing and needs to break out of the rut.  I’m sure there are many women who will relate to her predicament whether it be in relation to the loss of a partner or “empty nest” syndrome; there comes a point when we realise we’ve been defining ourselves in one way for many years and that we’re a bit lost when we no longer fit that definition. I applauded Viola for wanting to take time for herself and for being selfish for probably the first time in her life.  She’s a grown woman – why shouldn’t she have an affair with a handsome man?  Provided they’re discreet, they’re hurting no-one – and they both know it’s a finite fling… don’t they?

The first half of the book, in which Viola and Marc embark upon their physical relationship and at the same time develop a friendship outside of the bedroom is beautifully done, peppered with moments of humour and tender affection, insight and longing.  In the second half, however, things start to run away a bit; I won’t spoil the storyline, but while there were things I really liked – such as meeting Marc’s children – there were others that struck me as a bit off, such as Marc jumping to a fairly unwarranted conclusion about Viola’s wishes.  His misguided attempt to protect her reputation is understandable, but there are too many fingers in too many pies, and I just wanted everyone to go home so that Marc and Viola could straighten things out between them without any more needless angst!

Had the second half of Someone to Care continued in the same vein as the first, I probably would be calling it my favourite of the series, but the weaker second half means it just misses that appellation. Still, it’s an excellent addition to the Westcott canon, and I, for one, was delighted to read a story featuring an attractive, vibrant heroine in her forties.  Ms. Balogh once again delivers a character-driven romance of great emotional depth and insight and I’m sure fans will enjoy it.

TBR Challenge: A Certain Magic by Mary Balogh

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Piers Westhaven and Alice Penhallow have always been close friends, even during their marriages to other partners. Now they are both widowed, and Piers, who needs an heir, has asked his friend to help him choose a new bride.

Alice has always been in love with him herself, but hiding her feelings has become second nature to her. As a boy, he dearly loved her too until his best friend announced his intention of courting and marrying her. Soon their mutual passion begins to break through the careful bonds each has imposed upon it just as Piers is being trapped into offering marriage to someone else.

Will honor permit them to speak the heart’s truth before it is too late? Or is it already too late for them–again?

Rating: B

A Certain Magic is one of thirty Regency Romances that Mary Balogh wrote for Signet between 1985 and 1998. Most of those have been out of print for some time, but fortunately for those of us who missed them when they first came out, a number of them are gradually making their way back into circulation as ebooks. Dating from 1991, A Certain Magic is a charming friends-to-lovers romance exhibiting the thoughtful characterisation and insight that are among the author’s trademarks.

Alice Penhallow has been a widow for two years. She loved her husband dearly, but is moving on with her life and is comfortably settled in Bath, where she has made new friends and enjoys the sights and activities the city has to offer. A summons from her brother sees her travelling to London and to the house she owns in Cavendish Square – much to her brother’s dismay as he had wanted her to move in while his wife and children are ill. But much as she loves her nieces and nephews, Allie sticks to her guns and insists on staying at her own house and going back and forth; she has no intention of dwindling into the role of widowed and put-upon aunt.

She is pleased when her oldest friend, Piers Westhaven pays a call on her as they haven’t seen each other in some time. Alice, Webster (her late husband), and Piers grew up together, and continued to be close friends even after Alice and Web married, paying regular visits to each other in the country where their estates were next door to each other. Not long after Alice married his best friend, Piers, too, got married, to a sweet young woman named Harriet who, sadly died in childbirth a number of years earlier. Now aged thirty-six, Piers has reluctantly decided it’s probably time for him to look about him for another wife, especially as he has recently learned he is heir to a barony for which he will, at some point, need to provide an heir.

Breezily, he informs Alice – Allie – of his intention, and almost jokingly talks about looking over the current crop of debutantes to see if one will suit him – but Allie is not amused. She is afraid Piers will repeat the mistake he made with Harriet, choosing someone young, timid and biddable, who will not suit him at all. There is also the fact that Allie is now able to admit to herself that she has loved Piers since she was fourteen; she loved her husband and their life together, but, given no sign that Piers would ever return her feelings, she married Web and subjugated her feelings for Piers into friendship. She admits to being the tiniest bit jealous at the idea of Piers taking a wife – but more importantly, she wants him to be happy and knows a schoolroom miss will make him miserable.

Allie has no idea that Piers is as much in love with her now as he has been for the last fifteen years. He fell for her when she was just fifteen, but by then, Web had made his determination to marry her known, and being an honourable chap, Piers backed off and never let either of his dearest friends know the truth. He married Harriet in an unsuccessful attempt to forget Allie, and still carries a burden of guilt over her death; if she hadn’t been pregnant, she wouldn’t have died, but worse, he never really loved her and he can’t forgive himself for it.

Unlike so many heroes in his situation, Piers isn’t your typical grumpy, brooding sort, and instead, buries his deeper feelings beneath a blanket of conviviality and general good humour. He’s always ready with a joke or bon mot and is never serious – although Allie knows that about him and she is the one person with whom he ever drops the façade. Unfortunately, his tendency to look for the ridiculous in pretty much everything around him leads to make a huge mistake; one of the current crop of debutantes is the granddaughter of a cit who wants to secure a titled husband for her. Piers is handsome, wealthy and relatively young (albeit twice the girl’s age) and Mr. Borden has him firmly in his sights. Piers, who is amused by the man’s gaucherie and his stories of How I Made My Fortune in Fish, fails to see the trap being set for him until it’s too late.

I’ll admit that Piers’ willful blindness is a bit hard to swallow; he’s far from stupid and he knows he’s playing with fire, but in spite of his own knowledge and Allie’s warnings, he just can’t stop himself from doing things he knows are unwise – although I suspect he is still somehow beating himself up about his first wife and deep down, feels he doesn’t deserve to be happy.

But I enjoyed the book in spite of that niggle. It’s not a flashy story; nothing much happens other than that we follow these two people as they try to work out whether it’s worth risking years of friendship in order to see if there’s a chance there could be something more between them. Both Allie and Piers are likeable, attractive and mature characters (he’s thirty-six, she’s thirty) who have a wealth of shared experience behind them as well as a shared sense of humour. They obviously know each other extremely well and like each other a great deal; they banter back and forth quite beautifully and their friendship is wonderfully written. But the author also imbues their exchanges with a palpable sense of longing which grows as the story progresses, creating a quiet, gentle and touching love story that left this reader with the warm fuzzies.

“There has to be mutual respect and liking, a mutuality of mind, a companionship, a friendship.”

“And that is it? That is all?” he asked, smiling at the top of her head.

“And something else,” she said quietly. “Something in addition to all those things. Something that words cannot express. A certain magic.”

The Best of 2017 – My Favourite Books of Last Year.

It’s something of a tradition to put together a “favourite books of the year” list around Christmas and New Year – I’m a little late with mine this year, but here’s the Best of 2017 list I put together for All About Romance.  Did any of them make your Best Books of 2017 list?

I had to make some really tough choices – here are some of the books that also deserved a place on the list, but which I just couldn’t fit in!