Unveiled by Courtney Milan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
FAN-TAS-TIC!!! This was my first read by Ms. Milan and, wow, I was very impressed. I loved her writing, the story, the characters - everything.
Ash Turner, a wealthy man who's built his fortune in trade after enduring years of near poverty as a child, is finally close to avenging his sister's death and his brothers' suffering at the hands of the Dalrymples. After discovering that the head of the Dalrymple family, the Duke of Parford, married his mistress (in haste and in secret) when he was too young to know better and has never had that marriage annulled, Ash takes the case to the ecclesiastical courts, and thus has the duke's second marriage declared void for bigamy and the children resulting from that union declared illegitimate and unable to inherit. That leaves Ash, the duke’s long-hated fifth cousin, twice removed, as the presumptive heir. And with the duke's current medical condition, it's only a matter of time before Ash becomes the new Duke of Parford.
The Dalrymple "children" (Richard, Edmund and Margaret) have lost almost everything - their titles, their honor, their "friends" and their mother - in less than a year, all thanks to Ash's uncovering of their father's bigamy. They haven't accepted defeat, though. So when they learn that Ash is moving to Parford Manor to oversee the estate he's about to inherit, Richard and Edmund move to London in preparation for the upcoming battle that will take place in Parliament when the lords debate the bill granting the Darlrymple family the remedy of legitimacy. Margaret stays with her father at Parford Manor, pretending to be a nurse so she can spy on Ash and document his failings, demonstrating that he's unfit to manage the estate and thus tilting the odds of her brothers' winning the debate in Parliament in their favor.
Margaret is predisposed to hate Ash on sight, but she soon finds out that it's impossible to not like him. There's just something about him. It isn't his looks, his money or, as she calls it, his cheerful ruthlessness. It's the way he makes people feel they matter regardless of who they are. And Ash makes Margaret feel she matters from the start, when he thinks she's a mere servant. As they spend more time together and she learns his secrets, understanding that there's more than simple revenge behind his actions, a bond of trust and intimacy (of souls, not bodies) is formed between them. Torn between that newfound bond and her loyalty to her brothers, Margaret tries to protect both, but she knows she'll have to sacrifice one to save the other in the end. The question is, which one will it be?
This book had me engaged from beginning to end. I loved both Ash and Margaret: I wanted to be her and marry him. The conflict in their relationship came from the situation they found themselves in, not from any dysfunctional trait they might have as characters - like fear of abandonment or commitment, for example. Family, honor, loyalty, betrayal and forgiveness were at the core of this story and Ms. Milan has done an excellent job weaving those elements into Ash and Margaret's relationship. I especially liked the way Ms. Milan hasn't fallen into clichés, avoiding some of the well-travelled paths in Romancelandia. Without giving away any spoilers, there was a much-anticipated scene where Ash's reaction caught me completely by surprise. A very pleasant surprise, I'm happy to say. I've read that scene - or the basics of it - in many books before and I was braced for what I "knew" it would happen. Well, I was kindly reminded that I "know" nothing. :)
I have to finish this review admitting that this book made me cry. I didn't want to, but I couldn't hold back the tears near the end of it. What can I say? That only happens when I'm really invested in a story, and Ms. Milan's beautiful writing had me enthralled from the first chapter to the epilogue.
Final verdict: It's a keeper!
Note: I received this eARC from Harlequin via NetGalley. That had no influence on my review/rating.
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