This is book seven (!) in the Westcott series, so I was prepared for a bit of confusion over some of the characters as I hadn’t read the first six. Still, the overwhelming amount of Westcott family members, in-laws, children and family backstory was almost too much. I decided to persevere, and focus on the main characters of Jessica and Gabriel, and stress over how Aunt Matilda or Cousin Abigail et al fit into the mix.
Jessica, step-sister to the Duke of Netherby, has been cossetted and pampered all her life. She has everything she could ever wish for, except for marriage. Early on, after a disastrous revelation of bigamy in the family she decided that romance wasn’t for her. But after her favorite cousins marry, and move on with their lives and children, Jessica begins to think she should pick someone and have children of her own.
Gabriel Thorne, newly returned to England after making a fortune in Boston, literally bumps into Jessica at a roadside inn where her travelling entourage has stopped for the night. The room originally taken by Gabriel has been reallocated to Jessica, so their first meeting doesn’t go well. While he is wealthy, he’s not in the same social strata she is; but he has a secret in his background that will soon change all of that. He’s returned to clear his name and claim the family title of Earl of Lynwood, just in time before he’s declared legally dead and his dastardly cousin inherits instead. Cousin Manley is the moustache swirling type of villain here – ready to boot out Gabriel’s dear aunt Mary from the only home she’s known. Mary is crippled, and has been living on the estate thanks to family wishes; she’s a dear soul who takes in stray wounded animals and tends her garden. Gabriel needs to step in and make sure she and the rest of the inhabitants at the estate are not kicked out.
Naturally, in London Jessica crosses paths with Gabriel again. He is still keeping his true identity a secret until he can get all his ducks in a row; but he’s determined that Jessica should marry him and their relationship begins to take shape. I was happy to see that even when Jessica finally discovers who he really is, there wasn’t any big drama over the ruse. She and the rest of the extended Westcott family are soon ready to aid him gain his right place in society. Still, I really didn’t warm up to Jessica too much, she was kind of a generic romantic heroine for the most part.
This was a slow moving romance, but well written and I enjoyed the adult nature of the relationship. The stand out family member to me was Avery, Duke of Netherby; described as slender, fastidious, elegantly attired at all times, and sporting rings, cravat pins and jeweled quizzing glasses of all sorts, he was still the most commanding person in the room at any given time. I pictured him as sort of like Prince at the height of his glittery suit phase, with ruffled cravats and high heel boots, fully confident in his masculinity. He’s intrigued me enough to search out the first book in the series to read how his marriage to Anna came to be.