Through sheer force of will, Ash Cohen raised himself and his younger brother from the London slums to become the best of confidence men. He’s heartbroken to learn Rafe wants out of the life, but determined to grant his brother his wish.
It seems simple: find a lonely, wealthy woman. If he can get her to fall in love with Rafe, his brother will be set. There’s just one problem—Ash can’t take his eyes off her.
Heiress Lydia Reeve is immediately drawn to the kind, unassuming stranger who asks to tour her family’s portrait gallery. And if she married, she could use the money from her dowry for her philanthropic schemes. The attraction seems mutual and oh so serendipitous—until she realizes Ash is determined to matchmake for his younger brother.
When Lydia’s passionate kiss puts Rafe’s future at risk, Ash is forced to reveal a terrible family secret. Rafe disappears, and Lydia asks Ash to marry her instead. Leaving Ash to wonder—did he choose the perfect woman for his brother, or for himself?
Warning: Contains secrets and pies.
I am not a fan of 'True Love makes bad guy see the error of his ways and he redeems himself' storylines. Thankfully, this isn't really one of those. It isn't a real redemption-arc, more a self-realization arc, that works both ways. Ash and Lydia both realize several things about themselves that they already knew but were afraid to admit. Both learn that it's OK to want things for themselves. Especially Lydia learns that you shouldn't constantly second-guess what others expect of you. Both learn that they have been the overprotective older sibling a bit too long and that their little brothers can think and decide for themselvesIt is all very beautiful and everybody is delightfully reasonable most of the time.
It is all very beautiful and everybody is delightfully reasonable most of the time. Unfortunately, that also means that book is a bit dull at times. And I'm really torn here. For example, I really like that Lydia learns about Ash's past quite early on and decides that it doesn't matter. That is great, not only that she thinks like this but also that this reveal didn't come only at the climax. If such a major thing had been kept from her for so long, I couldn't have seen how she would have ever been able to trust him again. But by getting that over so quickly, the major obstacle to their relationship was out of the way after roughly a third of the book.
Now I'm not saying that people have to be stupid for (romance) novels to work. In fact, the first Lively St. Lemeston book proves that. Nick and Phoebe are also quite reasonable but then their happiness gets threatened from the outside. For most of the book, Ash and Lydia's happiness is only threatened from the inside, they talk about it and resolve things. Which is a great sign of a healthy relationship but it also means there are long parts that mostly involve Lydia thinking about Ash while her ladyparts ache and...that is not terribly exiting. Towards the end, another obstacle appears but that gets also resolved too quickly to be that thrilling.
Having said all that: I still read the book in two days. I loved the characters and apart from the relationship between Ash and Lydia I also enjoyed the relationship both had with their brothers. (Siblings who genuinely care but also screw up occasionally are my favourite thing). The minor characters are all beautifully written (and some already appeared in Sweet Disorder so it was fun seeing them again). Still, it dragged on several occasions and I doubt I'll re-read it anytime, soon.