The Proposal by Mary Balogh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Not all wounds are visible.
Lord Hugh (Emes) Trentham has spent the past several years healing from the emotional trauma incurred during the Napoleonic Wars while leading the charge on a "Forlorn Hope"--what would today be called a suicide mission. His body came through unscathed, but as any veteran could tell you, his mind did not. As a reward for his heroism, he was given a title and transformed from the son of a wealthy merchant into a peer of the realm. Now that his year of mourning for his father is over, he is faced with the intimidating task of finding a wife who can guide his younger sister through the Marriage Mart. But Hugh is NOT good with the ladies. His scowling face scares most of them away before they ever have a chance to meet the person inside.
Enter Lady Gwen Muir, widowed for the past seven years and seemingly content with her peaceful life on her brother's estate. She goes for a long walk on the rocky shore to escape her obnoxious hostess and slips on a gravel slope, severely twisting her ankle only feet away from where Hugo sits hidden from view on a ledge. He reluctantly rescues her; she reluctantly lets him. Time and proximity work their magic over the next week, slowly splintering the preconceptions each holds dear. Nonetheless, the chasm between them is wide, and neither is sure they wish to cross it.
It's a refreshing novelty to read a historical romance novel where the hero and heroine are not only in their thirties but also actively dislike each other at first and come from widely differing backgrounds wherein the heroine has the higher social status. Their first impressions of each other are not favorable and do not improve for quite a while, although their budding physical attraction intensifies relatively early on. I really appreciated the gradual development of their relationship as each struggled with personal demons and societal prejudices. As in real life, nothing was simple.
Other reviewers have pointed out that Gwen's story was originally supposed to have been part of a trilogy that began with One Night for Love ...so I now need to go re-read that one! And maybe A Summer to Remember as well.
For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, setting secondary. There are a couple of sex scenes.
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