This is Book 6 of the Survivors' Club series—after The Proposal (Hugo's story), The Arrangement (Vincent's), The Escape (Ben's), Only Enchanting (Flavian's), and Only a Promise (Ralph's). This is Imogen Hayes, Lady Barclay's story—and Percy Hayes, Earl of Hardford's. And I must say here that this book is one of my personal favorites, and Percy is definitely one of my best heroes!
Percy unexpectedly inherited his title and fortune from a distant relative two years before the start of the book, but he has never been to his estate in Cornwall, which he assumes is a heap of a semi-ruin in the wilds of the West Country. Now, however, in the dreary depths of February, he is turning thirty, is colossally bored with his life, and decides on a whim while inebriated at his birthday celebrations with friends that he will take a run down there and look about him until the spring Season swings into action in London. He does not know until he gets there that there is indeed a house, that it is in good repair, and that it is occupied by the elderly sister of his predecessor; her equally elderly companion; Lady Barclay, the young widow of the man who would have inherited the title had he not died in captivity in Portugal during the Napoleonic Wars; and a whole houseful of unappealing strays, of both the human and the animal variety.
Imogen, who was in Portugal with her husband and present when he died, has indelible memories of that time. She spent three years after her return to England at Penderris Hall, which the Duke of Stanbrook had opened as a hospital for seriously wounded officers. Now she lives a secluded life in the dower house on one corner of the estate, but at present she had been forced to move to the main house while the roof of her own is being replaced. She is less than impressed when the new earl turns up behaving like God's gift to womanhood, too handsome for his own good, oozing charm when it suits him to do so, but ill-mannered and irritable and downright rude when it does not. Percy for his part is irritated by his beautiful distant cousin-in-law, who seems to him to be made entirely of marble.
Soon Imogen's quiet life of self-imposed mourning is turned upside down by the constant interference of that man in her life and by the inexplicable and quite unwelcome attraction she feels toward him. And soon Percy, who has spent thirty years deliberately avoiding all that is troublesome and dark and potentially upsetting, is drawn quite against his will into wanting to understand what troubles Lady Barclay, though he suspects that he really does not want to know. He also finds himself wondering if someone is trying to drive him from his bedchamber at the front of the house, overlooking the sea, and even perhaps right out of his home and Cornwall. His curiosity begins to lead him to uncovering dark secrets involving the past and the present, secrets that may or may not involve smuggling and violence and even murder.
I have thoroughly enjoyed all six books of The Survivor's Club. There is no one, absolutely no one, who can write emotions like Mary Balogh. I love character driven stories and she delivers every single time.
The books in this series tell stories of healing. All these men, and the single woman, have been horribly maimed, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. And Imogen Hayes is a broken woman, more or less taped back together by her time at Penderris Hall, but still not ready, after three years, to live a whole and reasonably content life. The reader is with her as she agonizes over her past, her present and her future. I admit I had tears in my eyes, something I rarely do.
I loved Percy. His character growth was very satisfying to watch and, as I do with most of "my" heroes, I fell a little in love with him. At times he reminded me a bit of Freddy Standen, in Georgette Heyer's Cotillion.
This is just an all round good book, with a mature, slow burn romance, and some mystery and murder which ties into the loss of Imogen's husband. I am not usually heroine-centric, but this heroine tugged at my heart strings; I felt sorry for her and I admired her courage. Her turn around at the end of the book was perhaps a little quick, but it's difficult to say how long these things should take and it had been four years since her husband's death. It was just time, I think.
I do recommend this book and all of the Survivor books. The first one, The Arrangement, belongs to Vincent, who is blind and in danger of being smothered by his womenfolk. Oh, and there's to be a seventh and final book about George, Duke of Stanbrook, who lost his son to the war and his wife to suicide. I wsa hoping he'd get a book, so I'm very happy!
Only a Kiss at Amazon