“A SIZZLING ROMANCE THAT TOUCHES THE HEART.” —Sally MacKenzie, USA Todaybestselling author
A PICTURE SAYS A THOUSAND WORDS…
The ton is buzzing about The Beautiful One, a striking figure in a scandalous book of nude sketches. Only two men know the true identity of The Beautiful One, and they are scouring the countryside, determined to find her.
BUT NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT ONES
The unlikely center of the scandal, Anna Black is forced to flee home as disaster looms. Her tomboy’s heart and impertinent tongue serve her well when she meets the most brooding viscount ever to darken a drawing room. Will Halifax, Viscount Grandville, has his reasons for pushing people away, and when his tempestuous teenaged ward arrives on his doorstep, he presses Anna to take on her care. As Anna begins to melt the Viscount’s frozen heart, she knows the more she loves, the more she has to lose. For although Will cares nothing for what makes Society titter, he has yet to see The Beautiful One.
Aside from some sweet moments and the occasional quip, there's not much to salvage from this plodding Regency romance. Poised on the brink of scandal over a book of salacious drawings, Anna Bristol heads to Stillwell Hall under the name Anna Black, acting as Elizabeth Tarryton's companion and chaperone. She has to convince Will Halifax, Viscount Grandville, to let Elizabeth, his ward, stay with him. Much is made of Anna's independence and resourcefulness, but they manifest as a stubborn insistence that she knows what's best for everyone else. Will is a ball of clich s: a grieving widower, a hermit afraid to care, and a son angry at his father for remarrying. Unfortunately he comes off as petulant and bitter, not complex. Anna forces Will to care about life again, but when it comes to her feelings for Will and their humdrum affair, she is passive. Will grows up and stops pouting, but Anna never changes, making this love story tedious from beginning to end.
The first of a new series
The first of a new series, Anna Black is shocked to discover that a book of nudes is being circulated through society, and if the woman in the sketches, The Beautiful One, is discovered, she will be ruined. Taking the obvious and easy way out, she agrees to escort a young woman, Lizzie, to her guardian’s home.
Anna is a bit of a conundrum: raised unconventionally, she is socially awkward at times, and wholly plain spoken, ignoring many of society’s conventions. Unlike other heroines I’ve read, Anna’s discomfiture is sporadic and feels convenient, not an integrated part of her personality. Lizzie, on the other hand, felt flat and more contrived: her attitude and antics are far too modern for a young girl of the era, and that kept her a bit hard to know or engage with. Although the third person POV allows for Anna, Lizzie and Will to have input, Lizzie’s was the least engaging for me, and her sudden change of character did not feel plausible or possible.
For his part, Will was an engaging character: first for his determination to be left alone and undisturbed – think of the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. Underneath the bluster is someone that is wanting to be loved and cared for, but he’s afraid of being hurt yet again. Still grieving, it takes the appearance of Anna and Lizzie to bring out the humor and tinge of wickedness he hides so well.
Anna and Will’s chemistry is solid and instant, perhaps a bit too instant for the time. But, their romance is most certainly the best part of the story. The secondary plot involving the search for the model that is The Beautiful One, and the secret that Anna holds too closely isn’t the focus of the story, and feels that way. The story is suffering from a touch of distraction in the plotting arc, with the romance being far stronger than the mystery, and that effects the emotional impact and accessibility of the story for me. With a somewhat awkward mix of historic and modern elements and language, the story ended up missing some ‘oomph’ for me, that would take it from entertaining fluff to solidly good.
I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.