The fifth in Kleypas’ popular Ravenels series puts a young flame-haired widow in the path of her late husband’s tormenter. But neither is what they seem.
When Phoebe, Lady Clare, married her chronically ill childhood sweetheart, Henry, she vowed to take care of him. Eventually, Henry succumbed to his wasting disease, leaving her to raise two young sons. While managing her grief and supporting her children, Phoebe is content to allow Henry’s cousin, Edward Larson, to run the Clare estate in Essex. But a trip to her younger brother’s wedding at the sprawling Eversby Priory introduces Phoebe to estate manager Weston Ravenel, who sparks her interest in new farming technologies, and in his tall, brawny physique and piercing dark blue eyes. Alas, West had tormented sickly Henry in boarding school, earning him Phoebe’s intense dislike. West is something unusual in the genre: a self-reformed rake. When carousing and pleasure-seeking lost their charm, he left London and began a new life of honest hard work on his brother’s estate. Phoebe, the daughter of a duke and the wealthy mother of the heir to a viscountcy, is out of his league. Phoebe and West are seated together at a lavish wedding dinner, an exquisite, transporting scene of small intimacies spanning two chapters in which Kleypas (Hello Stranger, 2018, etc.) is at the top of her game. Unlike Henry, West is both “the storm and the shelter”; he “kissed like a man who had lived too fast, learned too late, and had finally found the thing he wanted.” Readers will enjoy revisiting beloved characters from both the Wallflowers series and from earlier installments of the Ravenels, although West’s protestations of low worth ring hollow when surrounded by happily married friends and relatives with similarly debauched pasts.
A widow emerges from mourning with the help of a reformed rake in a truly romantic tale that stands well on its own.