Five years later, Stephen returns to England a changed man with only one desire—to find the elusive Cat, whose memory haunted and sustained him through the horrors of war. But the reunion he craved is soon overshadowed by the suspicion that Cat harbors an unimaginable secret. Now, Stephen must discover if Lady Cat is the answer to his prayers—and the woman of his dreams.
Comment: I added this book to my TBR after seeing some positive reviews on what promised to be a potentially romantic but complicated case of "secret child", a trope many readers dislike but that to me is one I tend to appreciate. Although there is some this, yes, the focus was not this per se, and I'm not certain how I feel about the fact this was just an element of the book.
In this book we have the story of Stephen Rockholme, a wealthy man who joins the military during the Napoleonic war and on the night before he is leaving, he meets a woman who intrigues him at a house party and she seems to be the perfect blend of innocence and seduction. Memories of her help him deal with the war disillusionment and, years later, when he returns he seeks her out and is shocked to realize she was a married woman when they met and that she has children. Lady Cat, as she called herself was indeed married but the night she spent with Stephen was with the knowledge of her ailing husband, so that there was a chance of her becoming pregnant and, thus, by having an heir saving the family estate from a gambling cousin who would inherit. Lady Cat has always felt bad about deceiving Stephen and now that she has been a widow, how will he react when he finds out the truth?
First of all, I'm not spoiling the story by having wrote that, it is what happens in the very first chapter of the book and what propels the action to develop. The idea isn't original in romance, I'm certain there are more books with this type of plot out there, but I was indeed curious to see how the author would deal with the feelings of those involved. Well, mostly Stephen and Cat since her husband "conveniently was taken out of the picture" and now the plot is centered only on them as a couple and how to avoid the evil cousin from discovering the truth.
Yes, this is the basic plot of this book and although in terms of action, things might seem simple - they were developed in such a fashion too, especially considering the page count - I was hoping for complexity and emotion in how the main characters dealt with their actions. I must say I was a little disappointed with this, because the author was quite....linear, in how she developed this part of the characters' personalities. Stephen discovered the truth, he acted on that knowledge and they admitted their feelings in the end. I was hoping for some more complexity but things were done rather easily.
I suppose this might be the way it is, but I got the feeling the author wanted to say what she wanted without spending too much time on secondary issues. Perhaps it was just the way things were done back in the late 90s plus the author might have this more direct style (this is the first book by her I try, I could not really say this, though) but I feel such a plot device would be worth more complexity, more layers to how both Stephen and Cat dealt with what had happened between them.
At some point it felt as if there were too many unimportant secondary scenes (the role they played in society, the little things regarding the evil cousin, the apparent behavior they had to show to others while feeling something else, the "games" of not saying what they meant) and not enough character development. We are told who they are, character-wise, so we should root for them. While this allows readers to see sweet and obvious traits from them, it's not that unique to make them look special. I felt the angst and the tension between Stephen and Cat could have been done better.
There were some good elements, such as the relationship between Cat and her step daughters, how they and Stephen got to become close too at some point, how everyone tried to be a family and how much they talked and allowed for everyone to be heard... most tings good, I must say. However, I probably won't remember much about this novel some months from now... nothing about it read as memorable to me, even though I liked this, globally speaking.