Samuel Hartley may be wealthy, but his manners are as uncivilized as the American wilderness he was raised in. Who wears moccasins to a grand ball? His arrogant disregard for propriety infuriates Emeline, even as his boldness excites her.
But beneath Samuel's rakish manner, he is haunted by tragedy. He has come to London to settle a score, not to fall in love. And as desperately as Emeline longs to feel this shameless man's hands upon her, to taste those same lips he uses to tease her, she must restrain herself. She is not free. But some things are beyond a lady's control . . .
Comment: Another month has gone and it's time for the TBR challenge post. The theme this month is "after the war" and I did go the easiest way by looking through the titles on my shelves and picking a story set after a war, since the protagonist had been in one.
In this first book in a series by Elizabeth Hoyt, she takes us through the stories of four men who fought in the war between England and France in the colonies (part of the seven years's war, I suppose?). This is the story of Samuel Hartley, whose war efforts gained him some fame, because he ran and people talked he did it for cowardice. Nevertheless, he is now a wealthy man and wants to offer his sister Rebecca the possibility of a season, thus traveling to England in business and taking her with him, so she can have this chance. He meets and chooses lady Emeline Gordon, a respectful widow, to chaperone Rebecca so she can be welcomed in balls and such, not knowing Emeline would turn out to be someone he couldn't resist.
Emeline, on the other hand, doesn't want anything to do with a man from the colonies but the more time she has to know him, the more intrigued she gets. Could it be that this is the man that makes her want to feel happiness again?
I have liked another series by this author, and while not all books were as superb, I still had a great time going through them all. I expect the same style and tone to exist here, even though the setting is slightly different.
The plot is quite simple for Samuel knows someone betrayed his comrades and himself at a certain battle. Many men died, some were captured and all who survived now must deal with the aftermath, whether it affects them physically or mentally or both. Samuel deals by running, as he did when he ran for help after some men were captured but he still has nightmares and regrets on many things. He moves next door to Emeline's house so it can be easier to move around London society, because he believes it is a fellow comrade, who happens to be a peer, the guilty one.
As he looks for clues, with the disguise of sponsoring his sister - although he does want her to have a good time and experience, perhaps find a good man - he can't help but get to know Emeline better. She seems prickly and bent on following society rules, but their interactions aren't always polite and he does enjoy bickering with her. I could see how this would make it believable they would start feeling attraction, they are opposites in many things but something about the other called them and I was looking for to see their romance develop.
Emeline does act a little standoffish at first but I could accept how she felt she had to play a role, both for society's rules and also for her own sanity in protecting her feelings. She had a good marriage, we learn, but they weren't married for long before her husband died. She also has her son to worry about and a spinster aunt who lives with her. I kind of liked Emeline's personality and her attitudes, although I understand why some readers found her too static.
As their relationship grows, Emeline and Samuel start sharing more about themselves, sometimes without noticing how much they do share, and I liked the fact some things were more due to insight than actual words, making them seem to be connected much strongly than the obvious. I particularly liked how Samuel ends up feeling good enough to share what happened to him or how he lived through war and how it affected him, for it showed how much he already trusted her.
At some point, Samuel does learn new clues about the possible traitor and when some dots are connected, I found some information to be really well done. Nothing new in terms of plot twists but interestingly done for this plot. Other situations related to this open up possibilities to the next installments and I do admit I'm looking for to read those stories too.
The end feels a bit rushed. I think the method used to bring Emeline to the point where she can't escape her feelings for Samuel anymore was a little too dramatic and not up to the vibe of the rest of the book. I think the author could have done this better, even though we had already realized they were in love. The decisions taken after their declarations weren't surprising and I feel I can believe theirs would be a relationship that could last, even if with bumps on the way.