With her mother's passing, Alexandra Bolton gave up on love to take care of her family. Now, with the Bolton name in disgrace due to her father's profligate ways, marrying an elderly squire might be the only way to save her family from absolute ruin. But when she meets the infamous Duke of Clarewood, old dreams and old passions are awakened as never before. Yet she cannot accept his shocking proposition!
He is the wealthiest, most powerful peer in the realm, and having witnessed the cold horror of marriage as a child, he has vowed never to wed. But Alexandra Bolton inflames him as no woman has ever done, and she also serves him his first rejection. Now Clarewood, who always gets what he wants, will choose which rules to play by. But when passion finally brings them together, a terrible secret threatens to tear them apart.
Perhaps we all learn, as we grow older, that there has to be a balance in our lives between what we desire and what we must do as a duty. Certainly the young men who were caught in the years of the military draft learned early on that duty to one's country was an ever-present necessity and an irrevocable eventuality during their early adulthood. So it was with Miss Bolton, eldest sister of three, whose mother made her promise to "take care of" her two very young sisters and her father. Well let me tell you, she like many others, found out that there is no "taking care of" a father who loves his booze and is addicted to gambling. And this young miss has what may be seen by many to have a very well-developed sense of concern for her family. But to break her engagement to a man she truly loved? Oh my!! Now that is a sense of duty!
Set in the rigid social confines of Regency England, Alexandra Bolton's story may not sound to believable to us today, but it was not one that was extraordinary for that time. It was, rather, the expectation in many circles. And the keeping of a deathbed promise was as binding as a marriage vow. So we find this young lady impoverished, taking in sewing from the grand ladies of a society where she was no longer welcome, just to keep some food on the table and a roof over their heads.
The hero, Stephen, Duke of Clarewood, is powerful, pretentious, arrogant, self-centered, wealthy, and bruised in his heart because of his loveless childhood and the wounds he experienced within a household that was an "armed camp" rather than a loving marriage between his parents. He has money, power, and mistresses, some of whom refuse to go away. Yet this man longs for love and genuine affection from someone who loves him for himself. He doesn't think that person exists. His encounters with Alexandra are a wake-up call to his deadened emotions. He is not very likeable and he is not used to dealing with people as persons in their own right. Why should he? He has never had to before.
Joyce's novel is about addiction and its ravages on families and loved ones, cruelty and poverty and the damages of gossip and class distinctions. It is about good people getting caught in the "meat grinder" of jeolousy and about how duty and true affection are often at odds with one another. It is beautifully written but it is not a fluffy novel. It is as up and down as a roller coaster and the people in this world of Brenda Joyce can be catty, hurtful, beautiful, caring, strong, and open-hearted. Alexandra encounters them all. Her heart has a difficult time finding its resting place. It is a book that will carry the reader on, either willingly or unwillingly, into the world of fashionable excess, social ruin, the cruelty of those whose only concern is themselves. It is a literary banquet for the serious reader and can only be appreciated if the reader approaches it as such.
I liked this book a lot, and hope that all of you will give it due consideration. I give it a 4.5 out of 5 rating.