Two wronged souls join their lives in a marriage of convenience in Regency England.
Balogh (Someone To Trust, 2018, etc.) pairs the youngest daughter of the Westcott family with Lt. Col. Gilbert Bennington, a stoic war hero whose traumas are more personal than combat-related thanks to the trifecta of illegitimacy, childhood poverty, and a ruined attempt to establish a family. While he initially finds Abigail Westcott to be no different from others who have treated him with condescension, he slowly comes to trust her. Following her brother’s prompting, the two decide to marry to help Gil win a custody battle—his late wife’s parents have laid claim to his child—but also because they want each other. That the two are sexually compatible despite different upbringings and class status is to be expected in a Balogh novel, as is the support of her extended clan. The assortment of babies and adopted and biological children that come with this group, as well as Gil’s Disney-ish dog, lends some charm to the otherwise anxiety-ridden plot, though their inclusion feels calculatedly mawkish. Most adult characters get a similar positive treatment, with one glaring absence: Gil’s dead wife, who is a throwback to the misogynistic representations of women rivals once common in romance. Not only is she spoken of as a thoughtless privileged girl who fled motherhood, she is described in kink-phobic terms, striking an odd note in the increasingly sex-positive climate of the genre. A comic court scene toward the climax provides a nice break from the dramatic events and adds some vinegar to the pat sweet ending.
A familiarly comforting addition to the Westcott series that will hold no surprises for Balogh fans.