Pretty and popular, Miss Clare Westmore knows exactly what (or rather, who) she wants: the next Duke of Harrington. But when she twists her ankle on the eve of the Season’s most touted event, Clare is left standing in the wallflower line watching her best friend dance away with her duke.
Dr. Daniel Merial is tempted to deliver more than a diagnosis to London’s most unlikely wallflower, but he doesn’t have time for distractions, even one so delectable. Besides, she’s clearly got her sights on more promising prey. So why can’t he stop thinking about her?
All Clare wants to do is return to the dance floor. But as her former friends try to knock her permanently out of place, she realizes with horror she is falling for her doctor instead of her duke. When her ankle finally heals and she faces her old life again, will she throw herself back into the game?
Or will her time in the wallflower line have given her a glimpse of who she was really meant to be?
Publisher and Release Date: Avon, 24 February 2015
Time and Setting: London, 1843
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars
Review by Maria Almaguer
This book has heart. I would describe it as more a novel of manners à la Jane Austen than a traditional historical romance. Although the love story is very sweet and very central to the plot, the hero and heroine get to know each other very slowly and realistically as they reveal their true and hidden natures and their true and authentic selves.
But it’s also a story of an early Victorian era family. Clare Westmore is the eldest daughter of a viscount and destined and expected to marry well in accordance with her illustrious lineage. But she must tread carefully as one misstep in the sharp and icy waters of the ton and she is ruined. At the novel’s beginning, she aligns herself with two other debutantes, Sophie and Rose, two rather shrewd and cruel young women, whom she believes to be her friends.
In her first London season, Clare has already caught the attention of the future Duke of Harrington, but when she sprains her ankle, she must step out of the social whirlwind for a while, and thus becomes “an accidental wallflower.” During this time, she becomes frustrated and anxious because she knows time is of the essence. Indeed, during her relatively short convalescence, Sophie manages to turn the tide of gossip and respectability solidly against not only Clare, but also her family.
Daniel Merial is a young and ambitious physician, a recent arrival to London from the Yorkshire countryside, eager to become a good doctor and to be taken seriously in the medical field. He’s also strikingly handsome in an unassuming and modest way. After his long hours at the hospital, he devotes his evenings to intensive and exhaustive experiments with anesthetic which he hopes to someday publish in The Lancet, a pre-eminent medical journal. He is also living in a poor and rather seedy part of London, far from Clare’s polished and comfortable Mayfair neighborhood, in a dingy flat with a lustful and nosy landlady. He relies on a spunky and formidable dowager duchess, Lady Austerley, whose weak heart provides him with a steady income, but he also counts her as a dear friend. His conversation, banter, and friendship with this wise older woman is one of the highlights of the story.
Clare’s family dynamics are as much a part of the story as the romance. Her parents have an emotionally troubled marriage and her younger siblings, Lucy – an incorrigible tomboy of seventeen – and Geoffrey – a curious and typically crude thirteen year-old expelled from Eton – provide humor but also a lot of emotion and feeling to the novel. When they all meet Daniel after he becomes Clare’s doctor, he quickly becomes a steadying influence on Clare and her siblings, a bane to the uneasy atmosphere of their own family life.
Clare matures a lot during the course of the novel. In the beginning, she tempers and hides her love of reading (especially The London Times) because it’s considered unladylike (not to mention threatening to gentlemen) to be knowledgeable and educated. She also worries about her dress and appearance but, during her recuperation, Daniel catches glimpses of the true and real Clare, and calls her out on it. And that’s when their romance heats up.
Ms. McQuiston writes a wonderful multi-layered story, with rich and well-fleshed out characters I really cared about, from the protagonists to the poor prostitute that Daniel rescues. The pacing as well as the execution of the plot are pretty near perfect. The only flaw I can find is that the end is perhaps just a little too neat. But it is a story of a loving and very human family, so it all fits.
With this beautiful novel, Ms. McQuiston positions herself firmly at the forefront of the historical romance authors.