This book has completely stolen my heart. It’s rare for a debut novel to leave this kind of impression on me, but Scarlett Peckham’s voice is truly exquisite—polished, incisive, yet tenderly rich in emotions—and I fell in love with her radiant prose within a matter of pages. She hits all the classic historical romance buttons—the Duke in need of a wife, the indomitable heroine set on preserving her independence, a marriage of convenience that grows into something more—but injects the story with a variety of human emotions which turn it into something rare and breathtaking. It’s the kind of romance that sweeps you off your feet and holds you hostage until the end, and then makes you wish the author had a backlist a mile long.
“It would be a cordial business arrangement affording independence to us both.”
Our heroine is Poplar “Poppy” Elizabeth Cavendish, a brilliant and industrious botanist who’s always preferred the feeling of dirt beneath her fingers to ladylike activities better suited to the granddaughter of a viscount. With no plans whatsoever of ever marrying and thus becoming dependant on yet another man in her life, all Poppy ever wanted is to be her own protector, her own provider, and to be able to pour all her energies into a lifelong passion that would make her the decider of her own fate. Until an unexpected offer of marriage becomes the only way to save her livelihood.
What she wanted in this life was not a husband. It was freedom, finally, from dependence on men. Her entire life had been dictated by their fortunes: their deaths, plunging her from crisis to crisis; their charity, allowing her to survive, to scrape by, to make her tenuous foothold in business; their half-truths, sabotaging her ambitions. She was tired of needing permission, dispensation, kindness. She intended to be the mistress of her own fate. And there was one thing she knew with absolute certainty from observing the ways of the world: one did not get that kind of power by marrying it.
After thirteen years of absence, Archer Stonewell, the Duke of Westmead, has finally returned to his ancestral home of Westhaven, only to be reminded by his younger sister that his days as a bachelor are numbered—a ball is to be held at Westhaven in a few short months where he’d need to pick a wife to bear him an heir. But while his sister is set on finding him the perfect candidate for duchess and wife, Archer only wants a woman who would see their marriage as nothing more than a business arrangement, a woman who would respect his privacy, and never expect an emotional attachment to form between them. Because Archer has a secret—a most private part of himself that he wishes to keep hidden from everyone, especially his future bride.
His wife would be granted more than most women could hope for: her freedom, his title, and his wealth. In return he asked only for a womb and a lack of curiosity.
While working at Westhaven to transform the ballroom into a dazzling indoor garden for the upcoming soirée, Poppy is pulled into the orbit of a commanding but kind man whose quiet intensity is oddly alluring, while Archer’s self-control begins to unravel whenever a certain young botanist is anywhere in sight. So when an unexpected scandal threatens to destroy all of Poppy’s dreams, Archer offers her the one thing that would forever protect them—his hand in marriage.
“…a clever businesswoman might ask herself not what she stood to lose by marrying me, but what she stood to gain.”
“A husband. That very thing I have spent my entire life trying not to acquire.”
What starts as a business arrangement of mutual convenience quickly escalates into a lot more for them both, but when Poppy begins to hope for a true marriage between them, Archer’s underlying distrust of himself and the desires he has hidden so well and for so long keeps him away from the only person he’s ever wanted to trust with his whole self.
“I can only surrender so much of myself to a person who does not give as much as he wishes to take.”
Scarlett Peckham delivers two complex, fascinating lead characters who are incredibly self-aware and practical, but whose unexpected emotional connection forces them slowly out of their carefully constructed comfort zones. Poppy presents to the world the façade of an independent young lady who doesn’t need a husband to give her life purpose, but deep down, even though she knows her own worth, Poppy dreams of finding someone who knows it, too. And while Archer believes himself to be incapable of love, his every action proves just the opposite. One of the most romantic tales of love and devotion I’ve ever come across, laced with moments both heartbreakingly tragic and joyous, this is a book I wish I could read for the first time over and over again.
“I wish I had been honest.”
“And what would you have said?”
“That I was looking to marry a fortune hunter and instead I met a woman who could make forests grow indoors.”
“She sounds like a witch.”
He smiled. “It’s possible. It would explain why I stopped breathing every time she walked into a room and lost whole nights of sleep imagining her hair.”