London's Little Season has never been so scandalous
It's the kind of vow often made on the battlefield. Darby Travers, Viscount Nailbourne, never imagines he'll have to honor it. Yet here she is on his doorstep—his late comrade's young daughter, and Darby's new ward. Worse, she comes with the most overprotective, mistrustful, bothersome chaperone—the child's aunt, Sadie Grace Boxer. Darby is quite sure that behind her lovely facade, the woman is guarding a secret.
Sadie Grace faced many trials working in her brother's surgery, but none prepared her for the world she's thrust into with his passing. Navigating the ton, with its endless ball gowns and parade of parties, is difficult enough, but hiding the truth about her niece while the sophisticated viscount watches her every move proves nearly impossible—particularly when his searing gaze tempts her to bare all. But when her family's past catches up with her, she'll have to trust in Darby…no matter the cost to her heart.
Darby Travers rounds out the quartet of soldiers at the center of this series, and now a promise made to the surgeon who saved his life on the eve of a prisoner of war camp escape is coming back to bite him. The surgeon's death leaves his seven-year-old daughter, Marley, orphaned, and now she is Darby's ward. Darby is already apprehensive about the changes a child will bring to his carefree bachelor lifestyle, but he is fully unprepared for the very grown, very forceful, and very beautiful woman who accompanies her to her new home. Though he only has one good eye remaining, he can see that Marley's Aunt Sadie is keeping secrets, and ferreting them out of the intriguing beauty has just become his new favorite pastime.
Sadie Hamilton Boxer's life has been one of order and duty, with precious little time to indulge in her own hopes and dreams. Taking care of her brother's practice while he was at war gave her a sense of purpose, but now that he's gone and Marley has a new home, she's not quite sure what to do with herself. But she knows one thing for sure: she's going to keep Marley safe, even if that means having to live with her handsome and infuriating new guardian. But as the lies she's constructed to protect Marley start to unravel, she'll have to place her trust in the least likely candidate, the seemingly carefree and frivolous Darby. And as she spends more time with the maddening viscount, her traitorous heart just might discover that he is everything she never knew she wanted.
After enjoying the first two books in this series, An Improper Arrangement and A Scandalous Proposal, I was really looking forward to reading Darby's story. I love a scarred, brooding hero, and he was deliciously mysterious in the first two books. Unfortunately, I found him to be rather boring and uninspiring for a big chunk of this book. He has neither the wicked wit and sensuality of Gabe nor the dashing honor and heroics of Coop. For example, when poor Sadie stands before him naked for the first time (and by the way, there is a completely unromantic lead-up to the consummation of their relationship) and self-consciously comments on her perceived flaws of her body, telling Darby she hopes he's not disappointed, his response is . . .
"I believe I'll manage." Come on, Darby! Seriously? Even if you are being sarcastic, that's hardly a hero-worthy response. It took a really long time for me to understand that his sarcasm and don't-take-anything-seriously attitude are defense mechanisms because we don't learn anything about his past until the book is almost over. It's then that we finally learn Darby's childhood secret, which admittedly is pretty traumatic. By the end, I was much more fond of him, but I really wish there had been more focus on Darby and Sadie and their romance. Too much of their story in the first half of the book revolves around a subplot featuring another couple whose antics have underscored the series, Clarice and Rigby. Then the second half is dominated by another running theme of the series, whether Gabe's Uncle Basil will kick the bucket on his rapidly approaching sixtieth birthday like all of the dukes before him. I felt like Darby and Sadie didn't actually have a story of their own until there was only about twenty percent of the book remaining.
But I never really warmed to Sadie either. Her big secret wasn't revealed until after the halfway mark, and it turned out to be something easily overcome with Darby's help. And their attraction lacked sparks. They went from being newly acquainted, speaking to each other mainly of Marley and their situation, to all of a sudden being in love. But most disappointing was the lack of the delightful banter and simmering sexual tension that I loved so much in the first two books. The romance really got short-changed in this final installment for the sake of wrapping up the above-mentioned subplots. There are some cute moments, and things get cooking when the actual romance finally kicks into gear near the end. The last twenty percent saved this from being a two-star read for me, and I'm glad I hung in there. The final scene is a heartwarming and humorous end to Darby and Sadie's story and to the overall story encompassing all of the books, but I'm sorry to say that I found this conclusion to be the weakest book of the series.
My Rating: 3 Stars out of 5
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