Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale, has died, leaving behind a fortune that will forever alter the lives of everyone in his family—including the daughter no one knew he had…
This is book one in the Westcott series, which I had to read after finishing book seven (wrong order, I know!). The character of Avery Archer, Duke of Netherby, caught my interest in the other book so I had to find his story. This one begins with Anna Snow, left at an orphanage in Bath at a very young age; she is now 25 and has stayed on as a teacher. She has no memory of any family, other than her mother, but she is content with her lot in life and has no desire to change anything. Well, that all of that is about to go out the window when she receives a mysterious summons to London where she is shocked to discover that she is actually the legitimate daughter of the Earl of Riverdale, and her name at birth was Anastasia. It turned out that the Earl had been married to Anna’s mother, and then ditched them to marry another woman. Small detail – he was still married, so his second marriage was bigamous and his children are no longer the members of high society they believed they were. Oh the scandal!
Avery, who had been the guardian of the previous heir to the title, has kept his distance from the explosive situation. He comes across as the foppish kind of aristocrat, more concerned with his appearance and not willing to exert himself overly much. This is not your typical romance hero – he’s slender, short, sports more jewelry than the average woman and has an angelic look. And yet he is still a commanding presence in any room he enters, able to cut through conversations without raising his voice, merely his quizzing glass. Even though he had been bullied as a young lad, he was able to overcome that and gain confidence in himself. (Yes, there is some contention over characterization of the Chinese gentleman who taught him some form of self-defense and meditation, but the character is really not mentioned more than once or twice.) He is drawn to Anna fairly quickly, even though he acknowledges she is nothing like the women he is accustomed to. She is quiet and unassuming, but she isn’t afraid of telling him he’s absurd, which is often.
There is a lot of family in this book, with various aunts, uncles, cousins, half-sisters and it’s really distracting trying to keep them all straight. Avery’s half-sister Jessica (who is the heroine in book seven) is especially bratty in this story. She hates Anna, hates that the cousins she loves have suddenly become persona non grata, and hates Avery for liking Anna. In fact, many of the family members aren’t on Anna’s side, even as they try to mold her into the proper lady of the ton in order to find a suitable husband. Yet Anna perseveres to hold onto her own sense of self, and keep a sensible head on her shoulders. She understand the position she’s in, and only wants her new family to accept her and love her as she longed for as an orphan; yet in some ways, she is almost too perfect and sweet as they continue to take out their frustrations on her as if it’s all her fault. It’s almost like Snow White, all sweetness and light, charming the birds and eventually everyone around her.
I enjoyed her relationship with Avery though. They are well matched, and even though they don’t know each other that well, it’s a nice change to see how they grow into their relationship.
“But marriage is forever.’
‘Oh, not really,’ he assured her. ‘Only until one of us dies.’
Her eyes widened. ‘I do not want you to die,’ she said.
‘Perhaps you will go first,’ he said, though I rather think I hope not. I would probably have grown accustomed to you by then and would miss you.”
Overall, it was a good romance, even though the sizzle meter is fairly low key. I still think there was too much emphasis on family members, and their constant appearance in the story; none of them interest me enough to pursue the rest of the books in the series. The other quibble I had are the letters that Anna wrote on a regular basis to her friend Joel, still a teacher at the orphanage. It’s merely retelling what we already know and could have easily been deleted.