This series got off to a good start with a novella, and I liked this first full length novel even more. I’m not crowing about a new favorite author or anything, but this was a solid book and really hit the spot for what I wanted to read.
Elizabeth Sloane is a young woman brought up in incredible privilege in New York during the Gilded Age (I can’t remember the exact year – late 1880s, I believe). Her brother runs the family railway and she is expected to attend parties and be decorative. Elizabeth has followed the stock market closely for years and has always dreamed of opening her own investing firm. As a woman she is not allowed on the trading floor, and she does not have any of her own money to get up and running. Her brother refuses to help her, so she seeks out one of his business associates, Emmett Cavanaugh, who owns a steel company. Emmett and Elizabeth’s brother (whose name escapes me) are associates, but also greatly dislike each other. Emmett grew up in the slums of New York, ran away to work in a steel factory, and through a financial windfall and savvy investing, is now fabulously wealthy and owning a steel empire. Their attraction to each other overwhelms them and they find themselves quickly married at her brother’s insistence.
This was a good book, not a great one. I clearly like a marriage of convenience plot, and that is sort of what is going on here. Emmett acts like he is blackmailed in to the marriage because he can’t admit to himself that he really wants Elizabeth. Elizabeth does not see any other way to keep her social standing and the potential for her business without the marriage. There is a highly annoying sub-plot with a former suitor also wrapped up in this.
Emmett has a huge chip on his shoulder because he wasn’t born in to wealth like his peers. He tries to warn Elizabeth about how they are not socially equal and that he’s a bad man, and he takes a very long time to trust her affection and loyalty to him. He’s a bootstrap hero who actually has done terrible things to get where he is – so at least those warnings to the heroine are true facts about himself. One of the great things about Emmett is that because of his background he does not have any issues with women working and wanting to support themselves. So, while he questions Elizabeth’s motives, he does not question her abilities, and he very actively supports her business pursuits over and over again. Elizabeth is a very likeable heroine for modern readers. She is a woman who knows what she wants and goes after it. She is not a snob, and sees Emmett for all the hard work he has done to get where he is. The fact that she is wildly attracted to him helps.
The lack of communication between the hero and heroine was a little annoying, but was totally understandable. Because of the forced marriage and their disparate backgrounds there is no basis for trust. One of the major weaknesses of the book was that I didn’t think the author did enough to show the growing trust between them. A lot of the relationship grows simply between their physical connection, and while that’s plausible, I would have liked to have seen more emotion between them. And, I don’t think the grovel was enough at the end to justify quick forgiveness and trust. On the other hand, the hero and heroine were well matched in personalities and strengths, and that was great.
The hero of the next book is Elizabeth’s brother. He plays a pretty big role in this book, and I didn’t particularly like him, but I will still be reading his story. I’m not totally blown away by these books, but I’m definitely on the waitlist at my library for the remainder of the series.