I don't think the characters (Jared and Kate) were unlikable. She is intelligent, independent, generous and compassionate, and unlike so many other heroines, she is not either fighting the hero over nothing during the whole book, or swooning at his feet as soon as he kisses her. She just knows what she wants and although she is very attracted to him, she won't surrender until she can be sure there is solid ground to build a relationship on.
Jared is likeable too, he had a hard childhood that has left him emotionally scarred, but he is honorable, compassionate, protective and sensitive, even if that is not apparent from the beginning. But when he held the orphan baby they had saved against his body to warm her, it melted my heart.
What is the problem then? Why did I not rate this book with 5 stars? Well, for one thing, the story was slow, and there was not much romance in it. It was more about the orphans and Kate's efforts to save the children. What should have been the background of the story (the potato famine in Ireland, and the starving children) became the foreground, mixed in with some romance.
I applaud Kate's efforts to help the starving children, but as admirable as the enterprise is, that is not what I want a romance novel to be about.
And what about the ending? I don't think it was satisfactory at all. Jared agrees to join in Kate's scheme to help the children, which is illegal, so he is risking everything he has worked so hard for and even his life, if he gets caught. I wouldn't suggest that they abandon the children to their fates, but if Jared was the advisor of the queen, maybe he could have gotten her to help with the situation in Ireland, instead of becoming an outlaw. I guess the story will continue in the sequels with Jared friends, Drew and Ross, but I hate to have to read another book to see the conclusion of a story started in this one. I think it's just a marketing strategy to make you buy the other books and I consider this a cheap trick.
Another thing that was exaggerated was the total "re-decoration" Kate did of the Hawkesly state house. When I first read about the condition of the house, I though she was housing at least a hundred orphans. When I found out it was only 9 children I wanted to laugh. It is not necessary to convert a house like that into an orphanage dormitory to house 9 children. They would have fit in the nurseries! Even if they didn't, I'm sure the house had more than 9 spare bedrooms, since in one of the passages it says that the house has more than a hundred rooms.
Another thing that is debatable is how Jared got to his actual position of Earl and advisor of the Queen. How an orphan escaped from a workhouse would even be in a position to meet the Queen of England, much less give her financial advice? Please!
As you can see, the story has too many holes and inadequacies. The book is not the worst I have read, but I wouldn't recommend it either.