Eli Dawes, the current Earl of Rivers, has been presumed dead for several years after Waterloo. Before he defied his father’s wishes and went off to war, he was a handsome, popular and carefree nobleman; now he’s got all manner of scars, both physical and emotional, as well as a healthy helping of guilt for never letting his father know he survived the war. He returns to England for reasons (I don’t remember, it’s been like a month since I finished this), but instead of going to London, he returns to the country house in Dover, where he plans to hide away and deal with his inheritance.
Eli doesn’t realise that his father rented out the property to Haverhall School for Young Ladies, and that as a result, the house is full of inquisitive young ladies, as well as their teachers, one of whom is Miss Rose Hayward, who is quite surprised to find him sneaking in a window in the dead of night. Rose and Eli have a past, and in Rose’s mind, Eli is the callous rake who disappeared along with her fiancee, destroying her reputation and humiliating her and many other of London’s young ladies. Now Rose is a sought-after, but very reclusive portrait painter. She doesn’t go out in Society anymore, and believed Eli died, like her faithless fiancee, on the battlefield.
Eli takes his responsibilities seriously, and while he’s reluctant to rejoin society, he wants to do good with his inheritance (among other things, open a charitable foundation to take care of soldiers’ families). While Rose is initially reluctant to spend time with him, they can’t seem to stay away from one another, and Rose discovers that Eli had absolutely no idea what his former best friend did before he ran off to join the army. He eventually confesses his long-held feelings for Rose, who may in fact return them – but she can never be the wife the Earl of Rivers needs. Rose has scars of her own, they’re just a lot less visible than Eli’s.
Full review on my blog.