An heiress plans to wed a handsome duke to please her ambitious parents, until the duke’s scapegrace brother returns from the war and changes her mind.
On the eve of her betrothal to Gavin Whitridge, Duke of Baynton, Elin Morris is full of doubts. Her sparkling socialite of a mother has persuaded her to marry the duke, but at the last minute, two things happen that complicate and delay the betrothal. The duke’s younger brother, Lord Ben, returns from military service, reminding Elin of their childhood friendship and ill-fated romance. And Elin’s mother dies suddenly, collapsing during the betrothal ball and leaving Elin alone with her loving but distant father. The first in a new series by Maxwell (The Bride Says Maybe, 2014, etc.), the story takes a tiresome turn when an attempt is made on Elin’s life by mysterious ruffians and Lord Ben inevitably happens to be in the neighborhood to save her life. The two spend several days on the run in the countryside, working out their differences, getting thoroughly filthy, subsisting on rabbits, and ultimately rekindling their romance. The love story is one of the best parts of the novel. They have to forgive each other and themselves for their youthful stupidity now that they’ve reached the ripe old age of 23. The complexity of the family relationships is also impressive, especially the tension between Ben and his mother and brother. But the mystery of Elin’s attack makes the story drag. It's too predictable, too riddled with unlikely coincidences and convenient surprises.
The characters are likable but just foolish enough to experience a satisfying amount of personal growth over the course of the story. Maxwell would do well to avoid dabbling in mystery next time.