Having just closed the book (well, browser, it was an eBook) on Whitney, My Love, I’m left with so many feelings, some of them a little conflicted. I’d only just discovered Judith McNaught’s writing — quite literally — having read Kingdom of Dreams a few days ago but I couldn’t resist diving right into the second in her Westmoreland Saga expecting nothing and yet, after devouring and loving book one, everything.
McNaught’s stories are long. They are lengthy and detailed and layered and complex; just like her characters. But they are incredibly compelling and fascinating and soon you’re so swept in their journey and heartbreak and romance that you look up and realize you have lost an entire day to her world and her writing. No regrets!
Whitney Stone, our main character, is heroine perfection. She is clever and strong willed and wild and irrepressible. It’s the main reason, in the opening chapters, we see her father sending her off to Paris with her aunt and uncle; because he just can’t handle her anymore. She leaves behind a reckless reputation, scandal, and the boy she loves most in the world, Paul Sevarin.
Years pass and while in Paris she’s taught comportment, etiquette, refinement, and she goes along with it all, hoping that when she returns to England she will finally convince Paul they are meant to be together and that she is worthy of his love. But though the wild child has been taught manners, Whitney still has a cheeky, outspoken manner about her. And when she’s taken under the wing of her friend’s older brother, she quickly becomes the talk of the ton. Soon she’s in demand, with all the bachelors eager to gain her favour; she’s beautiful, popular and genuine…but also not in the market for a husband, rejecting proposal after proposal. All this and she manages to catch the eye of the Duke of Claymore, quite without her knowing it.
Initially spotting her months before their introduction, Clayton is captivated by Whitney. He wants her, and will have her, and quickly dismisses the idea of making her his mistress. No, he needs a wife, and he will have Whitney, so when his investigation into her family uncover her father’s outrageous debt, he concocts a plan. He will pay off the creditors in exchange for betrothal contract. And if that weren’t enough backdoor dealings, Clayton takes it one step further. After a less than desirable encounter at a masquerade, where he discovers how little Whitney cares for titles and rank, he decides to retire to the English countryside, down the road from Whitney’s father, and assumes a different name in the hopes of wooing Whitney without her dismissing him out of turn solely for being a Duke.
Unfortunately for Clayton, Whitney is not so easily wooed. She is still of a mind to marry Paul and the interactions that play out as Clayton tries to court her and Whitney resists are easily the best part of the book.
McNaught is able, with the considerable length of her books, to fully develop her characters. She gives us so many situations to watch them blossom, to err, to be won over, and the back and forth between these two strong-willed individuals reminded me so much of the couple in the first book of the Westmoreland Saga series. I’m a total sucker for a hate to love romance and McNaught’s characters take it quite a few steps further, see-sawing through so many ups and downs it visits utter emotional havoc on the reader. But unlike the previous book, the drawn-out, angsty push-and-pull in Whitney, My Love did begin to wear on me and is what brought this down from a perfect rating. Why? Because Clayton.
While the hero of this story is basically a dreamboat when things are going his way, when he’s amused and enchanted or being challenged, he does spiral out of control when he jumps to conclusions. Something he does with utterly disastrous results. McNaught does not let him get away with it, he admits to being at fault, he comes around to realize his mistakes, but… it does make his Jekyll & Hyde-ish behaviour hard to take time and time again. By the final clusterbomb of misunderstandings, I was just shaking my head, stomach in knots, unable to believe it was happening all over again. Because one thing I hate in romances? Misunderstandings. And yet, up until this last instance between Whitney and Clay, I thought I’d finally found an author who could make me, not loathe, not just tolerate, but thrive off the emotional angst because of the intensity it brought to the story and the relationship; but it just went one step too far and I strongly disliked (nay, detested) Clayton’s inner monologue and treatment of Whitney every time he assumed wrongly of her.
That isn’t to say Whitney is perfect and doesn’t make her own snap judgments. She does. But I was more forgiving of her mistakes because of her age and naiveté and the conclusions she jumped to, the hurt she felt, seem… more genuine. More reasonable. Then again maybe I’m just biased towards her because Whitney is going onto my wall of best heroines ever. She’s brave and bold and brilliant and beautiful and despite everything she endured with Clayton she waited for him to find her, to come to his senses, to prove her love for him was not undeserving. It broke my heart and yet I was just so proud of her.
Despite how I felt about things near the end of this read, I am still riding high on the McNaught train. I know I just bemoaned one of them (or one aspect of one of them because I did love Clayton for probably seventy-five percent of the book), but her characters really are fantastic. She writes the best heroines; the kind that are strong, independent, saucy, sassy and smart, yet vulnerable. The family relationship dynamics are gorgeous — in this second installment it was definitely Whitney’s aunt and uncle with whom I fell utterly in love (there are two specific scenes with the three of them that made me laugh and cry). Additionally, McNaught’s romances really are truly remarkable. The happily every afters are hard-earned but enduring. I just wish this particular happily ever after had one less speed bump along the way.
I am completely exhausted from this reading experience, and very happy to have discovered this author, even as late to the party as I am. If you’re looking for an emotional wringer of a story, but love genuinely delightful cheeky characters, and a bold love story with all the occasional ugliness that comes with being hurt by the one meant only for you, please pick up Whitney, My Love. It will make you feel so much and still have you laughing through it all.
Publisher and Release Date: Originally published, 1985, this edition published by Pocket Books, 2016
Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
A saucy spitfire who has grown into a ravishing young woman, Whitney Stone returns from her triumphant time in Paris society to England. She plans on marrying her childhood sweetheart, only to discover she has been bargained away by her bankrupt father to the arrogant and alluring Clayton Westmoreland, the Duke of Claymore. Outraged, she defies her new lord. But even as his smoldering passion seduces her into a gathering storm of desire, Whitney cannot—will not—relinquish her dream of perfect love.