Reviewed by Mandi and May
(Blurb) She will not give up.
Three months ago, governess Serena Barton was let go from her position. Unable to find new work, she’s demanding compensation from the man who got her sacked: a petty, selfish, swinish duke. But it’s not the duke she fears. It’s his merciless man of business—the man known as the Wolf of Clermont. The formidable former pugilist has a black reputation for handling all the duke’s dirty business, and when the duke turns her case over to him, she doesn’t stand a chance. But she can’t stop trying—not with her entire future at stake.
He cannot give in.
Hugo Marshall is a man of ruthless ambition—a characteristic that has served him well, elevating the coal miner’s son to the right hand man of a duke. When his employer orders him to get rid of the pestering governess by fair means or foul, it’s just another day at the office. Unfortunately, fair means don’t work on Serena, and as he comes to know her, he discovers that he can’t bear to use foul ones. But everything he has worked for depends upon seeing her gone. He’ll have to choose between the life that he needs, and the woman he is coming to love…
Thoughts on Hero:
May: Oh Mandi you know I have a thing for unremarkable looking heroes. Hugo is a determined man, not one interested in folly, and one who doesn’t believe himself to be interested in love or able to sustain a real relationship. His past has shaped him, and I found it really great how he realizes that it could also hurt him and keep him from new dreams.
That he is known for being ruthless, but at the same time has clear rules and lines he is unwilling to cross – it made me swoon. Repeatedly. I am not sure I’ve ever liked a novella character this much – he’s simply awesome.
Mandi: I really enjoyed the contrast between Hugo the “Wolf of Clermont” (the side that does dirty deeds for the Duke) and Hugo, the man who falls in love with Serena. I completely believed in both sides of him. Courtney Milan gives him such an excellent backstory involving an abusive father and a loving mother. I completely believed he could be a ruthless man, teetering on the edge of moral lines as he works for the Duke as he is determined to become a rich man. But I also completely believed in the softer side of him, the one that fell so much in love with Serena. The side of him that was “safe” to her.
Thoughts on Heroine:
May: If anyone could be a match for Hugo, it is this heroine. Determined to regain her life, to secure her future, and to get justice she does not let anyone sway her. Her sister is agoraphobic and tries so hard to get her to give up on life and hide. Serena lives with her sister at the moment, but has clear ambitions and plans that she is set upon and won’t be swayed from. Even when things are difficult, when giving in would be fast and easy – Serena stands tall. I love that about her.
Mandi: Serena is a tough cookie who relentlessly demanded the Duke give her the respect she deserved. My favorite thing about Serena is how safe she felt with Hugo, or at least, how she yearned to feel safe with him. And while he did stand up to her, and tried to do the Duke’s bidding, he really did prove to her that he could be trusted, and Serena was very open to receiving that trust.
Thoughts on lack of titled/wealthy character:
May: While I get the appeal of the rich titled man sweeping a girl off her feet, the title doesn’t matter to me. I’m way more interested in the character, the details. So I was happy to see this man of business – a former pugilist and ordinary looking fellow – be our hero. Same goes for a governess who through a series of unfortunate events comes to be stalking the man he works for.
Mandi: When I realized this book did not have a titled character for both the hero and heroine, I cheered. Why can’t we have a sexy romance book with two people who don’t have elevated statuses? They both aren’t drop dead gorgeous either. I love this description of Hugo:
But he was only a working man, if she read the middling-quality fabric of his jacket aright. Everything about him was middling. He wasn’t particularly tall, nor was he short. He was neither skinny nor fat. The most that she could imagine anyone saying about him was that he was virulently moderate.
And Serena is just a former governess now finding herself in a very bad situation. And these two “moderate” looking characters, come to have a truly swoon-worthy, romantic love story.
May: Without giving away the goods, the pin scene by far and away was the best (and smexiest). How the Hugo makes a lighter moment, a game from a very dark memory that has our heroine in despair – I just loved that.
Mandi: I too adored the pin scene. But I think my favorite is the scene where Serena is sitting outside on her bench (demanding to be seen by the Duke) and Hugo is inside the house in his office looking out the window at her. And through a servant, they start to exchange a series of notes with some great banter, and ending with quite a wicked gesture on Serena’s part.
“Are you flexing your muscles for me?” she asked.
“That,” he said smoothly, “would be vain.”
She felt herself smile in response – the first smile since she’d entered his room. “So, yes, then.”
“You will be my protection from the world. And I…” She set her hand on his arm, and a prickle ran up his neck. “Legally, you’re obligated by my actions. Another woman might take advantage. You’ve trusted me not to thwart your ambition. Let me trust you with this, too.”
She lost herself in the feel of them – in the subtle satisfaction that swept over her at the look on his face as she moved faster.
“You lovely thing,” he growled.
She thought that lust would be selfish, no matter who entertained it. But there was a decided lift to his chin, a look in his eyes. He’d done all that for her – to steal the tension from her muscles, the fear from her heart.
May: This was not a good story for a novella, it was a fantastic story – period. Milan weaves her magic in this short format so well that at no point does it feel rushed, cut short, or as if parts are missing. There was quite simply not a single element I did not love. From the scenes out by the bench to their wedding night – this was a beautiful love story. Grade: A
Mandi: I agree, May. Milan writes her novella’s as full length books. I actually forget I’m reading a shorter story as I read her work. I found this one has a little slower start, but all of a sudden the world went away and I was inside this book. I came away in love with the story, the characters and the romance. And I have to say – we get a lengthy epilogue which sets up her trilogy due out later this year, and I can’t wait! Grade: A