An angel and a playboy find love in Matthews’ (The Lost Letter, 2017, etc.) latest Victorian romance.
Valentine March is all alone in the world after the death of her father, a small-town English vicar. With few options, Valentine takes a position as a companion to the abominable Lady Brightwell. Despite some unattractive clothing and a lower social status, Valentine’s beauty and innocence attract the attention of Tristan Sinclair, the infamous Viscount St. Ashton. When the love-struck couple are caught in a passionate kiss, the playboy swears off his life of gambling, brawling, and women and promises to make an honest woman of Valentine. But his father, the Earl of Lynden, has other ideas about his heir’s future. He sends Tristan to his remote estate in Northumberland and, in a Cinderella moment, ascertains that Valentine is a woman of high breeding and connects her with her long-lost and wealthy family. Happily, the two lovers are determined to uphold their promises, though they both battle uncertainty regarding the other’s true feelings. Despite a formulaic plot and predictable outcome, Matthews’ tale hits all the high notes of a great romance novel. Valentine, the heroine, is a spunky underdog completely unaware of her own beauty and uninterested in material wealth. Tristan is a smoldering hunk of love, a bad boy with a soft heart who just wants someone to believe in him. Their mutual attraction is a joy to behold. But this romance is not a bodice-ripper. Except for a few steamy kisses, this is a rather chaste love story that focuses on emotions rather than sex scenes. Matthews is a polished writer who knows her genre and audience. Several scenes, as when Tristan swoops in to boot out Valentine’s sleazy former suitor, are particularly entertaining and allow the Viscount to play the hero. “No one has ever stood up for me before,” Valentine gasps. “You were magnificent.” Cue the satisfied sighs of romance readers everywhere.
With an ending that is never in question, this tale offers the pleasant experience of simply enjoying a lighthearted frolic in the past.