Reviewed by May
Favorite Quote: “If that’s what you’re like when you’re a scoundrel,” she said lightly, “then thank God for scoundrels”
He looked startled. Then he flashed her the grin that always made her quiver. “Enjoyed that, did you?”
Under his grandmother’s ultimatum Lord Gabriel Sharpe must marry, and soon. He is the fourth of his siblings to marry, and this is the fourth book in this series. He is determined to do so not just because failure will mean him and his siblings are disinherited, but also so that his sister can’t use his refusal as an excuse not to marry, and because he wants to take care of a lady who’s brother died racing him seven years ago.
Virginia Waverly knows her horses, how to run an estate on a shoestring budget with a smile, and that she blames Gabriel for her brother’s death seven years ago. You see, her brother crashed into rocks on a dangerous racing course against Gabriel years ago. Now she is intent on racing Gabriel on that very course, and she is confident in her ability to best him as no one else ever has.
“I intend to marry her.” Gabe said.
What else could he do? Clearly her grandfather overindulged her, and that scoundrel Devonmont probably encouraged her for his own amusement. Miss Waverly needed a man to take her in hand. And since he was partly to blame for her present situation, he’d be the one to do it. In the process, he could solve his own problem.
Gabe refuses to race her at first, but he decides instead to race her on a much less treacherous course with the stakes being that should she win, he will race her on the course her brother died on. Should Gabe win, he is allowed to court her. Of course between the hatred her grandfather and Virginia have for him, and finding out that he was trying to marry her so that he could secure his inheritance and not be cut off does nothing for his cause.
I loved the scene at dinner at his family home where he realizes not only that she knows (he had been keeping his grandma’s ultimatum a secret) why he wants marriage, but that being practical with her about the match is not the way to go:
Practical women didn’t cut off their noses to spite their faces when a perfectly good marriage proposal stared them in the face, and practical women didn’t turn down pots of money.
Romantics did that. She was a romantic.
God, he should have realized it before. He would never get anywhere by arguing the practicality of the thing. Her emotions ran too high. He needed to take a different tack.
At this point, I fell in love with this book. While the grandfather (who raised our heroine and her brother) holds his grudge until the final pages, the heroine as she gets to know Gabe and the truths behind why he wears all black, as she remembers that her brother and Gabe were best friends, and sees the good in him lets her need for vengeance go quickly. I really appreciated that the author did not drag out that angst, but rather reasonably resolved and moved forward with it in a natural progresson.
Now for what I truly loved, and what is so often missing in romance novels, what I complain most often about the lack of: courtship. This book shows us some courtship! Huzzah! There is a very real progression as these two get to know each other – and I loved the scenes between Virginia and her cousin over Gabe. That naughty cousin does stuff to try and stir up Gabe’s emotions even more, and I loved his role as a sort of matchmaker. While he jokes around that he means to marry Virginia, it’s clear he is never a real suitor or after her heart. I love the bond these two cousins shared, and how they would talk with each other.
“Can’t have him thinking you’re easy pickings, when you’re throwing lemon tarts at him and dressing in your best gowns and watching for him out the window.”
“Lower your voice” she hissed. “He doesn’t know I’m doing those things.”
“Then he’s blind.” He chucked her under the chin. “He already wants to marry you. You don’t have to work so hard at convincing him it’s a good idea.”
Excuse me whilst I swoon. Not only is Gabe (as part of his courtship) working for her grandfather’s farm, but he knows he wants to marry Virginia the entire novel – it’s just that his reasons for it get better and his feelings grow deeper. It was so refreshing to have a hero not have to be tricked, conned, or otherwise convinced to marry, but one who has his eye on forever from the start.
We shall not forget the heat of this book either – oh my but these two had chemistry! My favorite scene is when she decides to go and check out the barn because she heard he had been working in there without a shirt:
A half-naked Gabriel in black buckskin breeches and boots was a sight to behold. The well defined muscles in his arms flexed with each scoop of the pitchfork, and his back showed every ferocious stab, the sinews tightening in a marvelous dance. She’d never seen a man’s naked back before, but she doubted they all looked as spectacular as Gabriel’s.
I just love the writing style of this book. We need a bit more about Gabriel, yes?
Lord have mercy on her soul. How had he come to be so exquisitely fashioned?
He had a little brushing of hair in the middle of his chest and circling his navel, but otherwise his entire upper body looked carved from oak. His flesh looked taut and unyielding, with ripples of muscles running down his belly. She could scarcely breathe at the sight of so much male… endowment.
Male endowment aside, there are a few problems that I had with this book. The first being I found the carriage race obsession that our heroine had at the start to be pretty ridiculous looking back at it now. The second is that the plot line of the scandalous murder/suicide mystery surrounding Gabriel’s parent’s death is weak. Each of the four books offers a very tiny bit into that plot, tying them together a bit but I felt that reading them out of order made no difference. Perhaps the fifth and final book will be more intriguing, but I wanted those portions of the story to be done so I could get back to the good stuff.
Oh and what good stuff it was. Let me give you just one more taste, ok? I just couldn’t cut this one out of my review. Here is Gabriel mid-book, realizing more with each passing day how lucky he would be to end up with Virginia:
He’d seen her only as the woman who found his very existence an outrage. But that was before he’d watched her in her element. Here at Waverly Farm she was a blur of happy female, bustling in and out, up and down, smoothing frayed nerves and stoking enthusiasm wherever she went.
“Who wouldn’t want to make you happy?” he choked out. “You… well, you make them all somehow… find the strength to be better than they are.” She did that to him as well, but he’d swallow gunpowder before he’d admit it. “You make do with the staff you have and you do it brilliantly. Devonmont doesn’t see that or care. He’s used to having everything work out as it should, so he doesn’t notice that what goes on in this house is your doing.”
As I said, I am in love. My fellow readers, I loved this book so much I ran out and purchased the first three in this series and read them immediately. I’m sorry to say none of them captured the magic that this book had, but all were decent reads.
From the progression of the romance to the tension and outstanding cast of characters – this book really shined for me. I recommend to anyone looking for a lovely historical England set romance.