After seeing several glowing reviews of this novel on the Cannonball blog, and being in need of a new romance author, I ended up picking this one up and quickly following it up with the other two novels of the trilogy. Despite that, I couldn’t quite figure out how to review this one, because every time I thought of certain things to say, I felt like I was insulting other romance novels which wasn’t my intent. Several other authors also add complexity to their characters, take nontraditional approaches, and use their novels to make deeper statements. And yet, this novel stood out to me in its character development, its language and its writing. Despite the fact that Cecilia Grant wastes no time in having her two main characters hook up (even if the sex is rather mechanical since the heroine basically hires the hero as a stud horse), the development of their relationship felt more like something out of a classic Jane Austen novel. It was slow, it was earned and the characters obviously impacted each other.
Martha isn’t driven by passion or desire – she wants to do what is right for her dead husband’s tenants, and given the will, the only way to do that is to stay the lady of the house. Unfortunately, the only way to remain in charge giving birth to a legal heir in the way of a son. She already knows that her husband did not get her pregnant but the lawyers don’t, and this gives her a small window to change that condition. Martha is seen as very traditional and conservative in her family, so the fact that she approaches her new neighbor with this proposal is extremely out of character.
Theo Mirkwood has been sent to the family’s country home to learn a lesson from his father. He has been wasting his time in London in a rather unfocused manner, and the hope is that the country will reform him, teach him the value of money or at least stop him from spending any for a while. He is taken by surprise when his widowed neighbor offers to pay him for his services, but soon realizes that this is not going to be an easy and fun liaison with a lusty widow. Martha has no interest in enjoying herself, and basically sees this all as work to get herself pregnant.
Despite an initial rough beginning, at some point the two start to have conversations and develop a friendship. While Martha wants a son, Theo realizes he can gain more than simply money from this transaction and also learn about land management from her. As a naturally outgoing person compared to Martha’s serious manner, he even makes the sweet effort to help her make friends in the community by arranging for visitors. They both are able to help each other in how they approach their tenants, with Martha’s no non-sense approach working miracles with a local harried farmer’s wife and mother, while -Theo helps Martha make school and education sound interesting to local girls.
Despite this, there are still misunderstandings between the two, and, of course, even if they were to develop feelings for each other, the situation is still complicated and unfeasible. Martha is too newly widowed to even be able to consider a new public relationship, and if she achieves her goal, this will only add to the complexity. The more Martha is out in the community, the more she wants to keep her place so that she can have a positive impact and continue with the improvements started during her marriage, and Theo would have no place in that.
I appreciate what a slow burn this one was and how the two characters pushed gently pushed each other and inspired the other to step out of their normal roles. I usually like the dramatic and twist turned romances, but it was the slowly developing romance and friendship in this novel that really did it for me. Also helped that once Martha finally stops seeing sex as a chore, the scenes are rather well written.