There is so much more to Victorian-era romances than roguish dukes, lavish balls, and damsels in distress, and few authors continue to remind us of this as Kerrigan Byrne does. Renowned for her female leads that are aware, independent, brave, and freethinking, Byrne’s heroines are wonderfully modern without seeming out of place in their 1800s setting, and her latest novel reflects more than ever an era that gave rise to so many progressive women and female social reformers. The heroine is her own knight in shining armour—she is the daughter of an Earl, an accomplished archaeologist, and a rape survivor, but a dark secret from her past leaves her with no other choice but to propose marriage to a man whose touch she dreads. And while her male counterpart is a tortured alpha whose own past might have made him distrustful of any woman wishing to marry him, he proves to be a broadminded, protective, and devoted partner in all the ways that matter. Kicking off a brand new series that centres on the lives and loves of three fiercely independent best friends, Kerrigan Byrne delivers a dazzling tour-de-force novel that tackles head-on the lingering terror and lasting effects of living as a survivor of sexual violence. She does so sensitively but unflinchingly, and her every word takes your breath away.
“We are eternally bound,” she repeated.
“By secrets, blood, and pain.”
“And by trust, passion, and revenge,” Francesca added darkly.
“And by friendship, love, and…” Cecelia sniffed, pressing on the hands beneath her, as if she could touch the heart below it.
“And hope. For without that, what reason do we have to endure?”
Despite her noble lineage, Doctor Alexandra Lane has spent the past ten years of her life cultivating a life of purpose and passion, all the while hiding a dark secret that she’s been paying dearly to keep hidden. But with her family’s estate floundering in debt and heading for bankruptcy, Alexandra is forced to resort to the one thing she vowed never to do—marry. And the perfect opportunity arises at her best friend’s soon-to-be engagement to a man she does not care for, where Alexandra meets the fearsome Duke of Redmayne, best known as the Terror of Torcliff.
“It’s crushing me, Frank. The guilt, the shame, the memories, the fear. I lose inches from my height because of this weight on my shoulders. I lose bits of my soul each time I’m contacted. Each time I pay with my father’s money. I can’t bear it anymore.”
Piers Gedrick Atherton has long learned that noble marriage rarely involved a happy match, so when the time came to pick the future Duchess of Redmayne and thus secure his family line, his choice was one of convenience rather than true love. But when a gentle spinster suddenly offers her own hand in marriage in place of her best friend’s, proposing a business arrangement instead of using tactics of seduction on him, he finds himself married within days to a woman that sends waves of pure desire flooding through his body every time he is near her.
How he yearned to fan the coals of heat he’d detected into a flame of desire. He longed to awaken within her something he could sense had lain dormant for so long. Perhaps her entire lifetime. Something no other man had ever stumbled upon. Had anyone even searched? Or dared to brave the layers of her prickly intellect, her dowdy garments, and furrowed frowns to find the sensuous potential within the prim spinster? Apparently not. All that exquisite softness had gone unnoticed. Untouched. Unkissed. Until him.
But as they embark on their honeymoon, Piers begins suspecting more and more that there is something his new wife is keeping from him. Their attraction is undeniable, and grows stronger by the day, but Alexandra’s eyes keep betraying her whenever they touch, making Piers even more determined to uncover the enigma that is the woman he married. Because what Piers does not realise is that a woman can fear and crave a man in equal measure, feel both panicked and protected in his arms, and that his wife’s behaviour might have nothing to do with him at all.
“My appearance, my manners, and my voice may be harsh, Alexandra, but I promise you my hands will never be anything but gentle with you.”
And all the while, Alexandra’s past continues to inch closer and closer to her present, threatening not only her life, but also the safety of the man she’s grown to love with all her heart.
She’d selected him. Out of desperation, at first. And now unexpectedly—astonishingly—she’d discovered within her a desire for him to choose her back.
There is so much to love and appreciate about these characters, but in my eyes, the true beauty of the dynamic between Alexandra and Piers lies in the way he tries to fit into her world, rather than force her to fit into his. He feels proud and protective of her many accomplishments rather than lessened by them, and he doesn’t try to change her or clip her wings in any way, no matter how high she flies. Just when I thought nothing could ever beat the Victorian Rebels novels, Kerrigan Byrne gives us a mould-breaking romance that is sure to forever remain one of my absolute favourites.
Could she be real? Did he hold in his arms the rarest of creatures? A woman of substance. Of integrity? One who tended more carefully to the capacity of her heart than to her coiffure? One who thrived on intellect and honor and genuine interaction rather than the empty endorsements of her peers? He’d begun to despair that such a person ever truly existed.