Tall, dark, and exquisitely sensual, he is the epitome of male perfection. Not that Claudia Martin is looking for a lover. Or a husband. As owner and headmistress of Miss Martin’s School for Girls in Bath, she long ago resigned herself to a life without love. Until Joseph, Marquess of Attingsborough, arrives unannounced and tempts her to toss away a lifetime of propriety for an affair that can only lead to ruin.
Joseph has his own reasons for seeking Claudia out. Instantly, irresistibly attracted to the dedicated teacher, he embarks on a plan of seduction that leaves them both yearning for more. But as heir to a prestigious dukedom, Joseph is expected to carry on his family’s legacy. And Claudia knows she has no place in his world.
Now that world is about to be rocked by scandal. An arranged marriage, a secret that will shock the ton, and a man from Claudia’s past conspire to drive the lovers apart. But Joseph is determined to make Claudia his at any cost. Even if that means defying convention and breaking every rule for a love that is everything he has ever wanted—a love that is perfection itself…
Comment: This is the fourth installment in the Simply Quartet series by author Mary Balogh. In this final story about a group of teachers at Miss Martin's School for Girls, we finally have Miss Martin herself as protagonist. I was very eager to read her story and, unlike some readers, I enjoyed the majority of how everything was dealt with but there you go, everyone has different perspectives.
Miss Claudia Martin is a proud, independent woman of 35, she has lost three of her greatest friends to aristocratic marriages but despite her dislike for titled gentlemen in general, she does appreciate her friends married for love and are happy. However, feeling lonely isn't something new and her life goes on.
One of her friends, however, sets in motion the biggest change in Claudia's life when she asks Joseph, the marquess of Attingsborough, to help Claudia and two of her older pupils in a journey where Claudia plans on seeing possible employers for the girls now that they are old enough to work. Claudia didn't want to owe a favor to a marquess but as they travel, she gets to see he isn't as idle and careless as many others.
New situations related to known characters and a come back from Claudia's past put her life and choices in perspective and in the end, Claudia must decide if happiness is actually in her grasp.
I did enjoy this story a lot. I confess I had good expectations because Claudia has always appeared to be a stiff, proper woman and I like to see stories where love and care transform characters somehow, especially while still maintaining their personalities and moral choices. I wouldn't have liked to see Claudia change completely but it was sweet to see how romance and a conscious understanding of who was with her made her more approachable. At least, to me, this romance story felt balanced between two mature characters and their actions seemed so in my POV.
The plot is very much alike the previous four, the two protagonists manage to spend a long time together or close by because of time spent in house parties given by the Bedwyns and other characters known by those who have read both series. (This also means that despite the stories being readable as stand alones, it's better to have read things in order)
This tactic is repetitive but at the same time it's the easiest to explain how people from different status can mingle together without scandal.
I don't mind to suspend belief in historicals. There is a set of "rules" and notions that have to obviously be met, otherwise it wouldn't be an historical, but I don't feel the need to follow each and every protocol to appreciate the romances. Concerning this, it also makes for interesting scenes, to see how characters react to different settings outside their supposed comfort zones.
Both Claudia and Joseph connect due to emotional matters and I liked this a lot, they are adults, they do have a lot in common and I liked they seemed to be sync with one another. I won't go into spoilers but there are other reasons why they bond rather quickly. I didn't mind how their relationship evolved because for me, their feelings were portrayed convincingly. I did love all the little scenes with other characters, where it felt like a validation of their love how others reacted to a possible agreement between them.
As expected, there are some antagonists, some situations that can't be perceived as just opposition to the goodness but I got the feeling everything was relatively balanced and I just enjoyed reading and turning each page.
I did like this story, it left me with a smile, it made me feel glad that certainly there is something good out there and even though this is fiction, it made my day lighter.
I consider myself a fan of this author so I'll certainly read more by her in the future.