Lady Emily Sedgely, separated from her husband and bored to distraction after years of solitude in the wilds of Yorkshire, is stirred by a sudden thirst for life and eagerly returns to London for the Season. Back in the swirl of society, she quickly warms to the attentions of an ardent young Frenchman—until a chance encounter with Baxter, her estranged husband, leaves her as confused as ever about her heart’s true longings.
Baxter, the Marquess of Sedgely, was given to dark moods and an uncertain temper that doomed his marriage. Finding relief in travel, he spent five years gallivanting the Continent and has now returned to London with a comely young mistress—and a dangerous secret. Cavalier about his safety, he discovers a far greater concern—for just one look at Emily stirs a realization that while his life may be in danger, it is his heart that faces a more immediate peril.
When Emily’s young French suitor arouses suspicions that he may not be all that he appears and a unknown assailant makes several attempts on Baxter’s life, the two are driven to protect each other and surrender to a passionate reawakening—and neither will rest until they are safely in the arms of the only person they’ve ever loved.
The story starts 5 years after Baxter and Emily have seperated and they see each other across a crowded theatre. Emily has spent much of the last few years marrooned in Yorkshire, where the solitude away from the London scene has not prevented her putting on some weight (which is referenced by everyone at every opportunity). Believing that Baxter is still on the continent, and that she is therefore safe from running into him, she returns to town for some company.
Baxter, who has been working for the government as a courier and part time spy, has returned to London with a mistress half his age, and his enemies trying to kill him. He is bored of his mistress and is already trying to work out how to ditch her when he sees his wife on the other side of the theatre and begins to realise what he’s lost.
Their mutual friend Lessington seeks Emily’s help in protecting Baxter, hoping that her appearance will give Baxter something to live for and therefore take the attempts on his life more seriously. Baxter realises that he has been cow-towing to his domineering mother too much and as a result, is much at fault for the failure of his marriage as anyone else. He failed to defended his wife in order to keep the peace with his mother, who takes every opportunity to denounce Emily as worthless (and fat).
Emily is courted by a young French Vicount, who tries to seduce her, though his motives are soon up for question. Emily, and therefore Baxter, get involved with Lady Grishelda May van Hoffen and her fears that she is to be “sold off” to a much older man by her slattenly mother, who is in thrall to “Captain” Dempster. There is much talk about sex within marriage, and the occasional safe (fade to black) scene between Emily and Baxter.
It is a multiple POV story, rather than from just Emily’s view, so allows for some of the secondary characters to be filled out more successfully than other accounts. It allows you some understanding of why Belle does what she does (because she doesn’t know any different, and she believes what she does is the only possibility). Lessington – Less – is a theatre producer and there is every hint that he is gay, if you only read between the lines.
The “May” story line is analogous to the Pride and Prejudice Lydia/Wickham story, where a young girl’s virtue is at stake because of a silly mother, and a young attractive man comes to the rescue.
Everything is soon pulled together and ends up as it should be. This is a more challenging book than standard “fluff” romances and deserves the time and attention to complete, even if it takes longer than standard romances. Baxter is a little disappointing, in that he can court disaster as a courier for the government but ruined his marriage by not standing up to his mother to protect his wife.