I was very much looking forward to how Theresa Jennings’ story would play out once it became clear in Thomas just how ruptured her relationship with her brother was, particularly after Thomas ended with a little note that Theresa had a daughter, Priscilla, clearly born out of wedlock.
Children in romance novels often fall into two categories for me: they’re either useful to the narrative and necessary, or there just to be cute and push the couple together. (Governess romances are exempt from them since the entire premise predicates that there must be children). In my opinion, there are far too many books that fall into the latter category and I worried for a bit that Matthew would.
We met Matthew Belmont in Thomas, though he may or may not have been mentioned/shown up in Douglas. He’s a squire that serves as a magistrate near Linden, where Theresa Jennings has come to visit her brother after his wedding and a long estrangement. He has three nearly grown boys away at school whom he loves and misses a great deal. Theresa is very keen on repairing her relationship with Thomas so that he might look out for Priscilla and offer her more advantages as a baron’s niece rather than just her bastard daughter.
Matthew and Theresa bond almost immediately, and to his credit, Matthew never sees a reason Theresa can’t just stay in Linden with him as his wife or how Thomas could be such an unmitigated asshole to his only sister. Also, someone wants Matthew dead.
I really liked this book, but I have a few quibbles. I worried that Matthew was just too good and too understanding. He has a bit of a sad history that informs his kind and fair treatment of Theresa, but he’s just…taken in a lot of disappointment in his lifetime and I can’t decide if I want him to be more angry about it because I would be or if I think he’s just too nice.
Or maybe he became inured to his own injustices and seeing Theresa and learning her history helps him to come to some peace about what happened to him. I’m not sure, honestly, where I fall on this.
The supporting cast is good, if at sometimes overdone. I’m not really a fan of some of the cutaways to Oxford, Axel Belmont, and Matthew’s sons. Burrowes has a habit of splitting sex scenes to do that and it always breaks the momentum for me. Beckman and Nick are back, giving us a bit more history for them. We also meet Alice Portmaine, whose family we’ll end up getting to know a great deal in the Windham stories and later entries in the Lonely Lords.
This is a good book with a sweet romance, but at times, the character wavers a bit. I was mostly happy with the resolution of Theresa’s relationship with her brother, particularly since I mentioned in Thomas that was something I wanted to see happen.
I don’t have much to say here beyond the fact that Thomas, again, took a few turns towards unlikable for me when he showed up after his wedding journey to literally accuse Theresa of seducing Matthew and immediately attempts to send her away.
I’m not mad that Theresa accepts her brother’s treatment of her as deserved — she sought out ruin to avoid a terrifying marriage her grandfather would have forced on her, and in order to keep her brother safe from her lecherous cousins, she wanted him to hate her. So I guess…he only believes what she’s led him to believe about her.
And he does kind of come down from his high horse pretty quickly when Matthew takes him to task and reminds him that there’s something about Theresa’s deliberate ruin that feels wrong. And he’s right — Theresa needed to make herself beyond the pale and unmarriageable, so she had a child out of wedlock. For that reason, Priscilla plays an important role.
Theresa’s reasons work for me not because I think she had a great solution to her problem, but because I understand why she thought it was the right solution. With the benefit of age, one can always see eight different ways you could have fixed a thing. Theresa just took the nuclear option and has paid for it ever since.