Regal, poised, and elegant, Sophie, Countess of Monmouth, is everything that a highborn lady should be. But Sophie is hiding a past that is far from royal. When Patrick, Earl of Coulter, realizes that her story doesn’t add up, he resolves to find out the truth of what Sophie and her sister-in-law are concealing. Although Sophie has every reason to avoid him, the handsome and charismatic Patrick awakens something wicked deep within her soul . . . a powerful need that Sophie must stifle in order to protect her place in society.
Despite Sophie’s humble background, the raven-haired beauty has won Patrick’s heart. But what Sophie needs now is an ally. Viscount Myles Dumbly, the disgruntled former heir of Monmouth, is determined to expose Sophie as a fraud to recapture his lost inheritance. Soon Patrick is drawn into a fight for both their lives. Somehow he must find a way not only to rescue Sophie from poverty once and for all, but to keep her in his arms forever.
Every aspect of this novel, from the characters to the plot and the romance, was superb. They sexual attraction between Sophie and Patrick is enough to melt these pages, yet they are both loyal and caring characters. Sophie is very strong, coming from a unique background and hiding her identity to protect those important to her. Beyond her tough exterior, however, is a fragile heart of gold that Patrick vehemently protects.
First, you have Sophie, Countess of Monmouth. She is the young beautiful widow of the Earl of Monmouth. She popped up two years ago and this is her first season in London society. Family obligations are the excuse she gives as to why she was never introduced to London society prior to this season. Sophie is quite old at twenty-two for her first season, widow or not. Besides being the earl’s widow, she is also mother to their young son Timmy, the new Earl of Monmouth. She is welcomed into London Society, escorted by her high birth sister-in-law Letty, the dead earl’s blood sister. These two ladies are very devoted to one another. Sophie is beautiful, but aloof, and has been dubbed the ice maiden by the ton (Britain’s High Society). She twirls around the peerage dance floors, but doesn’t engage the males in small talk, in fact she hardly talks at all. The females are jealous of her beauty, and the males want to bed her. Oh, whatever is a widow to do?
What I liked about Sophie is she isn’t the simpering damsel, as I had first envisioned. She is a spirited heroine with a backbone, but she is living in a society where there are very set rules and guidelines. Sophie is written as a genuine character, flaws and all. I found her very refreshing, and completely likable.
Enter Patrick Earl of Coulter, handsome and not married. In fact, he has no plans to be married. He attends ton functions because that is what society expects of him. Unlike the parents and their daughters, he is not on the prowl for a wife. But he certainly doesn’t mind looking for a lover. Patrick’s sights are set on the beautiful widow ice maiden. He knows that something is not quite right about her.
He was with the old Earl shortly before he died, and no wife or son were mentioned at that time. He believes her to be an impostor, despite her close relationship with her sister-in-law. Patrick has a keen intellect and a strong background in spying from war. He believes that he will uncover the countess’ secrets if she has any.
He has one major clue into uncovering her secrets and that is she counts steps while she dances. For a lady, no matter how sheltered or hidden away she was in the country, would have been practicing her dance steps at a very young age. A true lady would not need to count steps. He has caught her in this dastardly deed, and it spurs his resolve to expose her. What boon is he seeking, if he uncovers her treachery? Well of course what any red-blooded peerage earl wants from a widow; her under him.
Patrick starts out cold and calculating. Why should he care if she is a fraud? But he does care, almost too much. At first he convinces himself that he is obliged to protect the dead earl’s reputation and family from a charlatan. He quickly becomes a possessed man with his desire to uncover Sophie’s secrets. Patrick goes out of his way to catch brief glimpses of the thawed ice maiden, and is surprised by what he uncovers. He is touched by the way she talks about her son. The child is obviously very much-loved by his mother, an oddity in itself, because most parents of the peerage were known to have distant relationships with their children.
**ARC courtesy of Random House Publishing Group – Bantam Dell via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**