New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh returns to the elegance and sensuality of Regency England as she continues the enthralling story of four remarkable women- friends and teachers at Miss Martin's School for Girls. At the center of this spellbinding novel is Anne Jewell, a teacher haunted by a scandalous past...until she meets a man who teaches her the most important lesson of all: nothing is simple when it comes to love....
She spies him in the deepening dusk of a Wales evening- a lone figure of breathtaking strength and masculinity, his handsome face branded by a secret pain. For single mother and teacher Anne Jewell, newly arrived with her son at a sprawling estate in Wales on the invitation of an influential friend, Sydnam Butler is a man whose sorrows- and passions- run deeper than she could have ever imagined.
As steward of a remote seaside manor, Sydnam lives a reclusive existence far from the pity and disdain of others. Yet almost from the moment Anne first appears on the cliffs, he senses in this lovely stranger a kindred soul, and between these two wary hearts, desire stirs. Unable to resist the passion that has rescued them both from loneliness, Anne and Sydnam share an afternoon of exquisite lovemaking. Now the unwed single mother and war-scarred veteran must make a decision that could forever alter their lives. For Sydnam, it is a chance to heal the pain of the past. For Anne, it is the glorious promise of a future with the man who will dare her to reveal her deepest secrets...before she can give him all her heart.
When Anne Jewell is convinced to go on holidays with the Marquess of Hallmere (her son's cousin and self appointed guardian angel), Anne is determined that she will in effect be like a companion and act as a servant. When it appears on her first night that her hosts have other ideas, she is mortified, and decides to go for a walk. Whilst out walking she catches her first glimpse of Sydnam Butler. At first captivated, when he turns to face her she sees the scars on his face and flees. Mortified by her own terrible behaviour she returns to the spot within minutes but the mysterious man has disappeared.
When she meets him again, Anne apologises, and is then drawn to spend time with Sydnam, finding another lonely soul, with a similarly scarred psyche. Whilst Sydnam's scars are very visible (along with the inner ones he has), Anne's are invisible, but still very much affecting her daily life. As Anne and Sydnam continue to spend time together there is a growing sexual tension between them.
The first half of this book where the couple get to know each other was really good. The dialogue, both internal and external, was well written and completely believable. Given that we had met both of these characters before, there was already a sense of knowing them, at least a little, as I was going into the book and I think that helped with my enjoyment. Sydnam is the brother of Kit Butler who was the hero in A Summer to Remember, and Anne first was mentioned in Slightly Scandalous, and then appeared again in Simply Unforgettable.
The only thing I have felt a couple of times recently with Mary Balogh is that I have read the story before. The scarred war hero had echoes of Adam from The Secret Pearl, although I liked Sydnam from the get go, not like Adam, who I had to get to like eventually throughout that book!
I actually had a couple of issues with the turns that the book took in the second half, and also overall with the characters, oh, and the copyrighters who wrote that back cover blurb!!!
Firstly, my issue with the characters..........this book was like a passing parade of characters from Balogh's previous books. All of the Bedwyn's were present and accounted for - along with their spouses, children, and in some cases their in-laws. Yes, some of them performed a role within the story, but maybe it is time to give some of them time to live quietly in the country and not be dragged out into the spotlight in every book. Then, when the Bedwyn's temporarily exit (stage right), in come all of the Butler's from A Summer to Remember, oh, and a mention of the characters from One Night for Love for good measure. And then, change of location, and role in the characters from Simply Unforgettable.
Secondly, my issue with the storyline. Please be aware that there will be SPOILERS in the following couple of paragraphs.
Why, why, why did the author have Anne Jewel get pregnant from her one sexual encounter with Sydnam. The poor woman has had sex twice in her life (one being a rape) and she has ended up with two pregnancies. Yes, I understand that that meant that Sydnam would do the right thing and marry her thus moving the story forward, but surely it would have been a more romantic story had they been so drawn to each other that they continued some kind of communication eventually leading to their getting together. Yes, I know that it could happen (after all my own mother must have only had sex three times!!) but to me it felt very manipulative way of making the story go where it needed to go.
Secondly, the copyrighters. "Anne and Sydnam share an afternoon of exquisite lovemaking". Did they read the book? One of the things that I thought the author did do very well was in the portrayal of the sexual issues that a woman that has been raped or abused feels. Whilst Anne was a very willing participant initially, the lovemaking was not exquisite for her, and Sydnam knew it! Of course, he thought it was about him when it wasn't but still!
If it was just Sydnam and Anne's story then I would have rated this higher, but because of my issues I have had to mark it down just a little.