Reviewed by May
Imogen was working as a bar maid (never a prostitute) to repay a debt her father owed, when her real occupation was a nurse by day. One night a group of soldiers came in, and her life would never be quite the same.
It was done. What was left of her innocence had been taken. No, not taken. Bought. Imogen decided that the sacrifice of her virginity had been ultimately worth it. A few seconds of pain in trade for an entire year of freedom. For an entire lifetime of loneliness. For the safety of her sister. For twenty pounds sterling.
A year later when Colin Talmage the Duke of Trenwyth – a man believed to be dead- turns up at the hospital where she works Imogen is the one who is assigned to tend to him. Yet because she no longer wears a wig or paint on her face he does not recognize “Ginny” the angel he’s dreamed of since that night long ago.
Kerrigan Byrne writes fantastically broken, damaged, even outright mean characters and I love them all the more. There is a grittiness to her stories and a depth that I just can’t get enough of. In this review I am skipping or skimming over a lot of detail because quite frankly discovering that as you read this story really makes it more fantastic, and I don’t want to ruin that for anyone.
This story begins so blunt, crude, and hard it was impossible for me not to immediately love it. For a duke to assume any girl was for sale and to offer for her was probably quite normal in a bar at that time. Just as it would have made sense for Imogen to decide it was worth the price. He returns from war a broken man on the edge of death and yet she never gives up hope, does all she can to save him taking risks that endanger her own job.
I could see why Imogen did not immediately reveal herself to him, and why she made the choices she did as the story went on. I liked the twist that they end up neighbors and he resents and hates her for no real good reason and even goes out of his way to mess with her. She bothers him, gets under his skin, and he’s forced to meet the real Imogen who isn’t some poor girl trying to work of dad’s debts.
…she daintily pressed her brush to the canvas with the most whimsical, almost unbridled movements. Inspiration. Nostalgia. Contentment… Peace. Lord, how it irked him. How little he regarded her, but how much he noticed her.
Aside from the romance angle within this story, there is also an element of danger and a villain that I’m not sure altogether worked for me. You see with such an explosive beginning and set-up, I wanted more depth to the getting to know each other and becoming a couple side of the story. I wanted to see them develop as a couple in this real world no booze or wigs or lies. Instead, the danger element of the plot took up space within the story that I could easily have done without as it derailed the explosive and impressive start to this tale.
Imogen is a bright spot of a woman, because to be otherwise is to give up on goodness as she explains to the duke about her bright dresses:
“…if I cannot find that color, if there is no bright spot, then I must become one.”
It was impossible not to simply fall in love with her and her spirit. For those who have read the previous books by Byrne, those characters do make appearances here and are tied in lightly. But like so many historical romance series, having read previous novels is not a must here. Overall this really was a unique story, and the set up was brilliantly done even if the ultimate execution and follow through was a bit lacking for my taste. I remain a fan of this author and strongly recommend her for unlikely anti-heroes and strong amazing female characters as well.