4.5 for this one. It was as difficult to put down as "In Bed with the Devil" but I didn't love the heroine as much.
Olivia, the Duchess of Lovingdon, is recently widowed. As the story opens she waits for the reading of her much older husband's will. The only other person present is notorious scoundrel, Jack Dodger, who is there at Lovingdon's request.
As her husband's solicitor reads the will we know that Olivia most strongly wants the house she's been living in for herself and her son. Her son will be inheriting the entailed properties as the new, five-year-old, Duke. But what happens is that, not only has Jack Dodger inherited the house she's made a home, he's inherited every single unentailed property the duke owned.
He's also been named the guardian of the heir. WTF?!
Well it seems like the explanation is obvious, but as back story comes in it really isn't quite so much. There are other possibilities. By the time the 'reveal' happens, however, there's little doubt about what's going on so it's only a surprise to the characters. Still, it's a good setup and moving conclusion.
So what was my problem? I completely understood Olivia's shock and anger at what her husband did with his will. She remained at the house with her son at Jack's pleasure. She had no reason to trust him. He was insolent and rude and I doubt I'd have been any nicer about it. So that's not really the problem. The problem was that the acrimony lasted a bit longer than I had hoped it would. Which made her eventual turn around (and it's a big one by the end) feel sort of shallow and abrupt.
With "In Bed with the Devil" the heroine, Catherine, was already a woman who bucked society's expectations. Olivia is the exact opposite and she ends up with an infamous scoundrel who doesn't even have a title! Seems like there should be a longer period of transition needed to make a decision like that.
Another little problem I had was that Olivia was the sister of the villain of the last book. But that was never used in any way. None of the other characters even raised an eyebrow or stumbled over a word when he was brought up. Granted, she didn't know that her brother was an uber-villain, but several others did and the man was brought up a couple of times in their presence. If it wasn't going to impact the story, why bother? It's a mild distraction, but a distraction it is.
I really love this series. It's got some very difficult subject matter and not all the threads are tied up nicely by the end. There's a lingering bittersweetness to some of the story, but that only serves to make the HEA that much more moving. Because the 'happily' is tempered with a dark reality that makes the 'ever after' appreciated in the extreme. And this makes the conclusion feel more joyous than it would if we were expected to forget the past and only look to the future.
Both of the stories I've read in this series have haunted me after I've finished reading them. I'm definitely excited about this author.