The premise of the Westcott series (non-spoilers: this is all basically in the cover copy) is that an earl was secretly married and had a daughter, and then he married again and had three more children. Upon the earl’s death the three presumptive heirs find that they are illegitimate and the orphaned child gets a huge inheritance. The first book is about that orphan, and she and her new husband make a bunch of appearances in the following books. I tried to read the first book (Someone to Love) when it came out, but gave up pretty quickly as it just didn’t hold my interest. I read that some other people didn’t like that one particularly either but found this one better – those people were correct.
This second novel is about the oldest of the illegitimate children, Camille, and how she creates a new place for herself in the world after basically losing her identity. After the truth about her father came out Camille and her younger sister moved to Bath to live with their grandmother and avoid Society. Camille had spent her entire life trying to be the perfect lady and had been engaged to what she considered the perfect gentleman – who cut things off as soon as he learned about her father. After nursing her wounds she decides to apply to teach at the orphanage where her half-sister was raised. At the school she meets Joel Cunningham, a portrait artist who was raised at the orphanage and who now teaches art there.
Joel had been best friends with Anna (the legitimate half-sister) and resents Camille’s presence at the school. Camille can sense Joel’s resentment and already does not feel comfortable there, and can’t articulate why she feels the need to be there. I’m not sure I bought the hate-to-love premise of the story, and that was the biggest failing. In a very short time, and not fully explained how, they become friends and then lovers. Camille’s motives and feelings are the center of the story, and I didn’t feel like I got to know Joel much at all. There is also a preposterous story about his origins that felt like it was included just to ensure them a happily ever after.
Mary Balogh is always a solid writer, but never knocks my socks off. Her characters always feel real, and the conflict is muted and usually internal. These are the kind of books you can easily recommend to your mom (hi mom!) without worrying that she will judge your taste in content. So, while I was underwhelmed with this book in general, it was the first book I finished reading since having a baby, and has gotten me back in the reading/reviewing game.