Sunday, 17 April 2011

29. "Unveiled" by Courtney Milan

Publisher: HQN Books
Page count: 384 pages
Date begun: April 10th, 2011
Date finished: April 11th, 2011

Ash Turner is about to become the heir to the Dukedom of Parford after proving that the current Duke contracted a bigamous second marriage, and all his heirs from said marriage are illegitimate and hence unable to inherit. As a distant cousin of the current Duke, Ash is next in line for the title and the estate. Parliament just needs to vote on the issue first. The current Duke is bedridden and ailing, having lost his second wife after the shock revelation.

Anna Margaret Dalrymple has lost her name, status, fiancee and dowry because of Ash Turner's revelations. She stays on at the family estate pretending to be her father's nurse, Miss Lowell, so she can spy on Ash and report back to her brothers, hoping they'll find proof that he'll be unsuitable as a Duke. When Ash arrives with his younger brother Mark to inspect his future holdings, there is an instant attraction between Ash and Margaret, even though she's determined to hate him, and he's unwilling to take advantage of any servants under his care.

Margaret is surprised that instead of trying to force himself on her, Ash is perfectly honest about wanting her in his bed, however, he wants her to come willingly, and pursues her most chivalrously, never making inappropriate gestures or comments towards her, just trying to get to know her. While she hates him for what he did to her family, Margaret quickly realizes that Ash is a very good and capable man, and that he's worked hard to make his fortune mainly to give his brothers all the opportunities they missed out on growing up in poverty with a mad mother. His hatred towards the current Duke stems directly from an incident where he petitioned for help, and was turned away, leading to the death of his little sister. He went to India to make his fortune, and returned to England to find his two younger brothers homeless street urchins. Even after he was able to support them, and send them to Eton and Oxford, they were hounded by their distant cousins, the Dalrymple brothers. Unfortunately, the Turner brothers thought little of the Duchess and the Duke's daughter when they decided to bring the truth about Parford's indiscretions to light.

Ash is a great hero, and it was so incredibly refreshing to read about a strong and capable man who, while clearly very virile and attracted to women, also respected them and didn't try to force himself on them or dominate them. As he grew up in poverty and made his own fortune, he despises the rigid traditions of the upper classes. It's quickly apparent that once he gets to know Margaret, he considers her not just as a future mistress, but as a potential life partner, even though he believes her to be a common nurse, and a bastard at that.  He's highly efficient, very dutiful, extremely loyal to his brothers, and completely ruthless if he believes anyone has wronged someone he loves. He has one big secret and weakness, which he hides from nearly everyone, but has managed to amass a fortune despite his difficulties. He feels deeply guilty about having to abandon his brothers, even if it was to make the money to save them, and desperately wants to understand them and make things right with them.

Margaret is very smart and has run the household with her mother until Ash Turner's revelations reduced her to nothing but a near-penniless bastard child. None of her former friends will speak to her, or even answer her letters, her mother died from the shock of the news, and her father is bitter and bedridden and clearly finds her useless and worthless. She stays behind to spy on Ash for her brothers, knowing that living unchaperoned with two gentlemen will ruin what is left of her reputation for ever, because she is loyal and loves her brothers, despite their flaws. She's amazed that Ash takes the time to really get to know her, and sees her as the person she truly is, bolstering her confidence and praising her strength, even if this means he may not get to seduce her as he so clearly wishes.

The dynamics between the two is wonderful, and another thing I really loved about this book is that there is no pesky great misunderstanding keeping the couple apart. The main obstacle keeping the couple apart for much of the novel is Margaret's divided loyalties. She falls hard for Ash, but knows that he is the man who may disinherit her brothers and leave them nearly penniless. Through much of the book she worries about his reaction when her true identity is revealed, and when the truth finally does come out, she is unable to commit to him, as it will mean betraying her brothers.

Ash's two brothers are also intriguing characters, and it seems as if Milan is planning separate books for them. This is the first Courtney Milan novel I've read, but it was so delightful and refreshing that I will be looking forward to each of her new novels, and track down her back catalogue, just to see if the rest are as good as Unveiled. 

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