This is the third book in the Westcott series. I skipped the first and reviewed the second here. This third book was very good. The overarching theme throughout the series of family and acceptance was at its peak here, and I loved it. I always enjoy a series about a close family, but this takes it beyond the nuclear family to aunts/uncles/cousins, and it’s just wonderful to see people treating each other well.
Alexander Westcott was happy with his life as a gentleman, but when his cousin, the heir to the Earl of Riverdale, is found to be illegitimate, Alex finds himself as the new Earl. All of the money in the estate went to the former Earl’s one legitimate daughter, but the entailed land that is in disrepair went to Alex. Because he is a good and decent man he knows that he cannot ignore the property and the tenants who rely on him, and he will need to marry for money to be able to turn the land around. Wren Heyden has lived alone for nearly twenty years because of childhood trauma and a physical condition. Upon the death of her adoptive parents she is an incredibly wealthy business woman. More than anything in the world she wants a husband and children, and she believes that she will have to buy a husband to get what she wants. Wren proposes to Alex, offering up her fortune to repair his estate. Alex is uncomfortable with this without an actual courtship, which he then conducts as he pulls Wren out of her solitary life and comfort zone.
Balogh did a wonderful job showing how Alex and Wren became friends. All of my complaints about the second book (about not seeing how they came to like each other) were missing from this one – it was executed beautifully. Wren had Childhood Trauma, which is a trope that I usually hate. Balogh managed to avoid some of the usual pitfalls here by 1. making it the woman who has the trust issues (I am o.v.e.r. the “hero who can never trust because of vague childhood problems”) and 2. it is shown exactly what happened to Wren and how it affected the whole family, not just her. Alex’s patience and concern for Wren were lovely to see. I suppose he falls into the beta hero category since he’s not a domineering alpha. His strong family connections were one of my favorite parts – the large, extended family rallying around to welcome a new family member and to take care of their own was just lovely.
This book made me finally realize where Balogh is lacking for me. I’ve read a bunch of her books, and I would say this is right up there as my second favorite (first is A Matter of Class, which is amazing and different and an awesome book), but even then I can’t rave about it. Here is why: there is no smolder. I want smolder and longing in my romance novels. All other emotions are very realistic, but the attraction is tepid. I would almost rather these were ‘closed door’ stories because the lack of smolder makes me uncomfortable when they get to the sex scenes.
With that said, I will definitely be reading the rest of the series, but I’m glad that my library carries them.