As each of The Survivors Club members find healing and love in this series, I enjoy being along on the journey. Ralph’s story is no exception. His physical wounds have healed, but his survivor’s guilt, post-war trauma, and depression have left him in a cold, dark place which sadly is safer to him than actually engaging with life and living. Fortunately for him, life won’t let him wallow and he is forced to re-engage out of duty and then slowly and reluctantly, on his part, it becomes something more.
As with others in this series, the author doesn’t make the characters easy or their romances. Ralph and his heroine, Chloe, begin as fairly unlikeable folk in their own ways. They agree to a chilling bargain and wound each other along the way. I’ve read this author long enough to stick it out because her flawed characters have a way of finding redemption and growing into quite the worthy folk.
This is part of a series of course and I do think it is best to read it in order, but each are written in such a way that the reader could get one out of order or as a standalone.
The story opens with Chloe Muirhead hiding out with her godmother after she invited herself for an indefinite stay. She moves about trying to stay unnoticed and yet be a good companion to the older Duchess who was friends with Chloe’s grandmother. Her quiet stay is interrupted when Her Grace’s grandson is called home so the duchess can remind him of his responsibilities which include finding a wife and producing an heir as the duke’s health is frail and he isn’t getting any younger. Chloe has heard things from her brother of the Earl and had formed a negative opinion until she realizes that he’s not as black as she was painting him. No, this man who is not keen on marriage or participating in London Society to find said wife is haunted by his past at war. His eyes are cold and empty. This leads her to make the most audacious offer of her life as a last resort to get her chance at a contented future.
Ralph Stockwood came back from the war severely injured and minus the three best friends that he talked into going with him. He wanted to die and even tried to take his own life when he first returned. He doesn’t deserve to come home to loving family, title, and wealth and he doesn’t feel that he can love again even toward his family. He cut himself off from all that until the old duke’s health forces his hand. Ralph is then shocked by the little timid mouse he mistook as his grandmother’s hired companion at first when she boldly offers a marriage of convenience giving her list of what she wants from the marriage and offering to be what he wants. She wants a husband’s name, a family, and a quiet life in the country and she understands that he wants just to do his duty and then to be left alone.
After making such a bargain, Ralph and Chloe move forward with their plan. The marriage begins as unemotional and detached as they agreed and they are strangers at the outset. However, they both learn that they were naive to think that they could live as husband and wife and not even mildly engage because a spark of attraction is there. Life also throws them a twist to their plans and they must adapt. They have to pull together and work as a team to face their newest circumstances. In the meantime, their pasts press in on the present. Chloe learns to care for her husband and wants to help him heal while Ralph learns of Chloe’s tragic past and wants to protect her even while he fights feeling anything for her. Will her past and guilt forever keep them from a chance at happiness?
Alright, as I said, the characters are flawed and have a long journey to growth. This book starts out slow and stays that way for some time. Chloe starts to blossom first and she becomes almost a new woman under Ralph’s care even though at the time he does it reluctantly because he doesn’t want to care. Ralph was frustrating because he fought change and healing so hard. I understood it was because he was convinced that he didn’t deserve it, but I still wanted to pop him good for what he put Chloe and his own self through.
The romance is the marriage of convenience and the author doesn’t stint on how this draws out. They are a seemingly impossible pair at first and it was fabulous how she developed this so that it became something beautiful and perfect by the end. There’s passion, tenderness, rage, hurt, affection, humor, coldness, and a deep abiding love that is authentic and real.
The historical backdrop and settings were splendid. Ralph is an earl and heir to a duke. He’s as blue-blooded as they come so the settings are a ducal seat and London high society. The mannerisms, social norms, and customs all feel so authentic without overbalancing the story and bogging down the plot.
Secondary characters are engaging between Ralph and Chloe’s relations and his fellow Survivors. Ralph and Chloe are the focus, but the secondary storylines and characters made for a fuller and whole story. Ralph engages with his fellow Survivors and his family as he works through his troubles. Chloe must confront all the disastrous people and episodes that drove her from London in disgrace not once, but twice. All of this just added to the story nicely.
All in all, this was a magnificent addition to the series and a spicy, authentic historical romance with fantastic characters and interwoven plot threads. Patience is needed for it to get up to speed, but the set up is worth it. I recommend the whole series, but this one is a real star in the group.
My thanks to Penguin Group and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this one in exchange for an honest review.
This book utilizes the Marriage for Convenience device and I thought it was particularly well done and believable. It made me wonder what everyone thought of that particular trope. Is this a romance trope that you enjoy? Do you have any Marriage for Convenience stories to recommend?