Okay, the good news is that no characters have vowed to Never Love Again (thank you, Ms. Smith), itís quite readable, and the sexual chemistry between the hero and heroine has lots of heat. The bad news is that the plot is flimsy and predictable, making it difficult to get involved enough to care.
Julian Rexley, Earl Wolfram, knows heís too protective of his 24-year old sister, Letitia. Heís cared for her since their parentsí death when he was eighteen and, especially since the death of their sister Miranda, wonders if heís doing such a great job.
All he wants is to see Letitia happily married; unfortunately, she rejects out of hand the young men Julian finds suitable. They argue frequently on the subject. Now Julian is furious to discover that, apparently to spite him, Lettie has gone to Hertford to stay with her friend, the notorious widow, Lady Sophia Morelle.
Sophia and Julian have a sordid history. Several years ago, Sophiaís father discovered them in an extremely compromising position. Thinking that the situation exposed his beloved as a scheming fortune hunter, Julian refused to marry her. Madly in love, Sophia was devastated when he walked away. Ruined and heartbroken, she had to choice but to accept marriage to the Marquess of Aberley, an older man looking for a malleable trophy bride.
When Julian arrives at Aberley, he finds Sophia, now the dowager Marchionesse, living in shabby gentility in the dower house. He wonders at her reduced circumstances, but assumes that willful Sophia must have done something to displease her brother-in-law, Charles, the new Marquess. When Julian realizes that Charles refuses to give Sophia any more than the bare necessities unless she becomes his mistress, and that he might actually enjoy forcing her, Julian gives in to Letitiaís pleas that they take Sophia with them to London.
Although the author does make an effort to have Julian and Sophia behave like intelligent adults, she canít quite seem to keep them on an even keel. Julian, in particular, wonít give up his basic assumptions about Sophia even when all evidence is to the contrary (of course she must want revenge against him - what other explanation could there be?) In fact, although generally likable, neither of these two characters is particularly well fleshed-out and inconsistent behavior doesnít help.
In many ways, the most vivid character is Lettie. This is too bad, because she is childish, petulant and obnoxious. Acting at least ten years younger than her age of 24, it was frustrating to have Lettieís sulks and tears driving the actions of the other characters. There was nothing to suggest she would finally become a mature, responsible young woman if she finally got her own way about marriage, so the resolution to her story was not believable.
Moreover, catering to her didnít make Julian and Sophia look smart. Certainly not smart enough to enjoy the sudden psychological revelations that justified their motivations and wrapped up the story. For instance, apparently in a bolt from the blue, Sophia realizes that she must never have truly believed her relationship with Julian would last - therefore she must have lied to him to have something on which to blame the inevitable end of their relationship!
To the 21st century reader, this kind of abrupt Psych 101 insight sounds too pat if not downright trite. For 19th century characters to have these breakthroughs more than thirty-five years before the birth of Freud seems unlikely. Itís not a convincing combination.
The creepy Charles and his stalking of Sophia, by contrast, was well done and moved that area of the story forward in a much more compelling way. Interactions with him better showed the strength and integrity of both Julian and Sophia and gave the reader something convincing to worry about.
Although there was a little too much despising and distrusting followed by lusting for my taste, Ms. Smith does know her way around a love scene, and these two were convincing in the bedroom whenever they got there.
Overall, if it sounds like I thought the characters had mixed feelings, I think thatís true. Not coincidentally, it would be accurate to say that I did, as well.
-- Judi McKee