Edwin Barlow, Earl of Blakeborough, agrees to keep an eye out for Lady Clarissa Lindsey while her cousin is out of town, though he’s dubious the independent lady will cooperate and uncertain whether his own ambivalent feelings toward her can keep her safe.
Edwin may be an earl, but he has few friends—due in part to his family’s scandalous history and his own stiff demeanor in society—so when one of them asks him to squire his cousin around for the season, he can hardly say no, though he's surprised when Clarissa concedes to the plan. Clarissa is an enigma, a quick-witted beauty with an effervescent personality and the ability to “draw a man in and put him off at the same time”; Edwin has always felt there was more to her than she let on. He's quite drawn to the lady, in fact, which disturbs rather than inspires him, given his own parents’ disastrous marriage. Spending time with Clarissa allows Edwin to see a deeper side of her and to understand that she's in serious danger from a would-be suitor who won’t take no for an answer. Edwin concludes that the best way to keep her safe is to marry her and is shocked when she agrees to that, too, though it quickly becomes clear that her come-hither-but-no-further attitude is armor forged from a traumatic experience from the past, and her persistent suitor’s intentions are far from benevolent. Keeping Clarissa safe becomes Edwin’s main goal, and helping her heal may also bring some peace and understanding regarding his own family’s complicated past. Jeffries tackles a number of modern notions in her newest historical title, including sexual trauma and stalking, with hints of possible light autism in Edwin’s prickly personality, yet the touch is deft and compassionate, and the requisite romantic happy-ever-after is a gratifying combination of love, acceptance, healing, and redemption.
Lovely, poignant, and powerful.