As a boy, Jack Coltrane, heir to the Coltrane House, spent his time hiding in the attic away from his drunken father. That is, until Merry comes along — the tiny babe his father has been named ward of, and the young woman he will eventually grow to love as more than a sister. In a dark plan to secure Merry’s fortune, Jack’s father reveals the devastating secret that will tear them apart and force Jack to flee. Years pass, and now Jack is back to set things right for the girl he’ll always love…but cannot
This has a decent enough premise – the first few chapters cover Jack’s early life when Meredith is just a baby in Awful August Coltrane’s house. August is a drunk and a gambler, who returns to the county estate at infrequent times during the year to throw raucous house parties. Though various methods, Jack and Merry are brought up by a random troupe of people, including two actors, a tutor, a viscount, and various other people. The story zips along at 5 year gaps as Jack and Merry grow up, ultimately being forced to marry, when she is 16, in order for August to get hold of her money.
That same night, Jack escapes, fearing his father would beat him again – this time to the death. He returns 5 years later, certainly richer, but not necessarily wiser – with his father and some of those who looked after Jack when younger, now dead.
He finds Merry both loves him and hates him. Henry Sherlock, a friend of his father’s, has been running the finances of the estate in Jack’s absence, whilst Merry has been running the estate and trying to pay off all the debts. Clancy and Cluny – the two actors – are now ghosts keeping an eye on Merry. The rest of the book is spent with Jack and Merry trying to work out their emotions and a way forward – bearing in mind they are still technically married to each other, dont really know each other as adults and have been damaged so much since they were children. Jack also comes to realise that Henry Sherlock isnt as benign as he lets on. There is also the matter of the Highway man who has started robbing people mere days after Jack has returned to town.
There’s a lot of plot, a lot of talking (much of it resulting in the book getting a little bogged down in parts). The use of the ghosts as a plot device was good, though not sure if it could have worked some other way. Much of the other matters – such as embezzlement, fraud and forensic accounting – could be seen as very modern for a regency period book.
In all, good premise, reasonable story, got a little bogged down here and there.