Years ago, love-struck Reese departed his home at Briarwood with a promise from raven-haired Elizabeth Clemens that she would make a life with him upon his return. But mere months later, she married the Earl of Aldridge, attaining wealth and status Reese could never match. Memories of that betrayal make his homecoming far more bitter than sweet.
Seeing Elizabeth on his doorstep dressed in widow's garb twists the knife even deeper. But fear for her young son's safety has overcome her pride: she begs Reese for protection from those who would see the boy dead to possess his fortune. He agrees to an uneasy alliance, sensing Elizabeth still harbors deep secrets—and Reese knows that he's placing himself in danger…of losing his heart all over again.
I have been reading a number of novels that deal with the fall-out of war, some set in contemporary times as the few I have reviewed just prior to this book, and some set in historical venues as in this story where several of the characters have come home from the Crimean War, some injured or missing limbs, and some without a scratch. But even those who managed to escape physical wounds have still often paid a high price for their service and sacrifice. In the case of our here, Reece DeWar, he has come home with an injured leg that is slow in healing as well as a shattered heart, a wounded spirit, and a whole load of hatred for the woman he loved, who had promised him faithfully that she was his alone, but now she is a widow with a son. While he was gone she had married a titled and wealthy aristocrat. However, this novel is testimony to the fact that there is often far more to the story than meets the eye.
Elizabeth is now a dowager countess with a son whose title and fortune is being threatened by his father's brother--his fathers greedy brother--and who have been slowly poisoning her with opiates in order to take over the guardianship of the young boy. His safety, his future, his very life are in jeopardy, and she runs to her ex-suitor for safety and sanctuary. Reece is angry and unwelcoming, but he is also an honorable man, and when Elizabeth collapses at his feet, obviously terribly unwell, he cannot turn her away. The story of their subsequent encounters with danger force Reece to seek safety and protection for this woman and her son.
This is not a simplistic love story and it is not a historical romance that fits into the Regency romance format. It is certainly another encounter with the English way of living and doing, of the ways of the aristocracy, and the struggles of Reece and Elizabeth to find some kind of peace together that will protect their son. It is only down the road a bit that Reece will learn more of the "why" of Elizabeth's seeming betrayal. Those who were loyal to him and openly hostile to her have their eyes opened gradually and that is an important part of the story. Reece's delight in Elizabeth's son is a heart-warming part of the story that reveals a great deal about what kind of man he really is. His loyalty to his friends, to comrades from the war, to doing the right thing are the defining values for this interesting man and go great lengths to add to the story as well as bring secondary characters in that flesh out the story and make the novel "work" on many levels.
This novel was released in 2009 by Harlequin under their Mira imprint, but it is one that is a delightful read and should still get attention from historical romance readers. Many people will recognize this author from her recent "Raines of Wind Canyon" series about brothers who have had difficulties early in their lives and while going into different occupations are still loyal and true to one another and those they come to love. Ms Martin brings that same kind of attention to the writing task in this novel. It's one that is worth reading and I hope those of you who do so will enjoy it as much as I. I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.