An unloving heroine in reduced circumstances, an orphan hero, and the gift of unconditional acceptance.
Miss Camille Westcott has to undertake an emotional journey after leaving London in disgrace thanks to the recent discovery of her aristocrat father's bigamy. Living with her grandmother and sister in Regency-era Bath, the disenobled Camille is driven by an inexplicable need: to see the orphanage that once housed her newly discovered (and legitimate) half sister, Anastasia (once Anna Snow). On impulse, she then applies to be its resident teacher. Adding to her disconcerting new life is an initially thorny acquaintance with Joel Cunningham, a former orphanage resident–turned–portrait painter who volunteers there as an art instructor. Initially leery of each other because of Joel's affection for Anna, they learn that there is more to themselves than they realized. As their attraction takes hold, Camille discovers something else: how to engage with the family she has always had but kept at an emotional distance. Balogh's unique skill in casting an unromantic woman as the heroine of a romance is on full display as she unwraps the layers of reserve and years of privilege that made Camille so formidable and forbidding in the earlier novel in this family series (Someone to Love, 2016, etc.). Meanwhile, Joel has to learn that his painter's eye can be trusted to see more in her and in his own newly found lineage. While his surprise fortune feels a little too close to the plot of the previous Westcott novel, one can look past it to the richer drama of human intimacy. Likewise, the reappearance of a two-dimensional comic villain seems pat, but only a hardhearted reader will be dry-eyed at the characters who become Camille and Joel's family by the end.
This “Cinderella” reversal story seethes with desire, painted paradoxically in the watercolor prose that is the hallmark of this author.