An unexpected patrimony leads a young woman to love and family in this first installment of a new series by the beloved Regency romance author.
An orphanage in Bath has been Anna Snow's home since she was left there as a toddler by a shadowy figure. She is largely content with living and working there as a schoolteacher now, partly supported by an unknown benefactor’s stipend. Like her fellow orphans, though, she has always weaved stories of her origins, and the best one—wealth and status—suddenly comes true when she finds out that she is the daughter of the recently deceased Earl of Riverdale, born during a secret early marriage. Yet Anna, who learns that her name is Anastasia Westcott, longs most for familial affection, which seems impossible to gain from her newly discovered half siblings, who have been suddenly disinherited. Balogh (Unforgiven, 2016, etc.) specializes in romance novels that both accept the essential solitude of the human condition and offer love as a stalwart companion; here, Anna has Avery Archer, the Duke of Netherby, to help her in this balancing act. Netherby is an unusual romance hero in that he is a man of beauty with a physical stature that evokes Asian martial artists rather than the anachronistically muscled men often found in the subgenre. Anna is initially wary of his aura of refined nonchalance but finds him to be a true friend as she struggles to learn her aristocratic duties and searches for allies in her new role. Netherby is taken aback by his own attraction to the woman he had pegged as a rube but whose simplicity and dignity slowly amplify her loveliness in his eyes.
A pleasant read with no major surprises, the novel profits from the author’s skill at illuminating the most profound (and burdensome) of human desires—to love and be loved.