Sarah Clarke-Townsend is the identical twin sister of Mariah, the Duchess of Ashton. They've recently discovered each other after being separated for decades due to their father's abandoning their mother and Sarah and taking Mariah away with him when the twins were toddlers. While Sarah is visiting with Mariah, who is in the last stages of her first pregnancy and due to deliver at any moment, the two of them go alone on an early morning carriage ride and stop at a church on the Duke's estate. Sarah overhears evil men outside the church who are clearly there to kidnap Mariah and, on the spot, devises a daring scheme to save her sister. She urges Mariah to hide while Sarah pretends to be her sister. When Sarah is surrounded by rough men who have her helplessly outnumbered and demand to know where her baby is, she declares that she left the baby with a wet nurse. Not wanting to miss the chance to capture her while she is undefended, they grab her and carry her away with them. Sarah soon is very grateful that she made her plan for her sister's sake, for it is clear that Mariah and the baby would never have survived the rigors Sarah is subjected to. Her kidnappers spirit Sarah away to Ireland, and though hungry and afraid and living in physical deprivation, Sarah never gives up watching for a chance to free herself from her captors.
Meanwhile, Rob Carmichael arrives at the estate of the Duke of Ashton right after Sarah is taken. He is a long-time friend of the Duke and the younger son of an Earl. Rather than leading the idle life of a privileged aristocrat, Rob has made a career for himself as a Bow Street Runner. Because of his training, he is eminently suited to mounting a rescue attempt, and he instantly volunteers to go after Sarah. The Duke cannot go with him because Mariah is in labor, but Rob assures him this is a one-man job since he needs to be as nimble and invisible as possible if he is to have a chance of success.
When Rob eventually catches up with Sarah and the evil men holding her, he makes a bold plan to help Sarah escape, but it comes very close to disaster until Sarah offers feisty and timely assistance to Rob.
Mary Jo Putney (MJP) is justly famous for her very strong, extremely sympathetic heroines, and Sarah is a terrific addition to that remarkable coterie. It is difficult for me to choose one favorite heroine among so many that I have adored over the years as a long-time fan of MJP, but Sarah is definitely in the top tiers of my list. She never complains, no matter how difficult the conditions her captors subject her to. She is always ready to do whatever it takes to survive--and make sure that Rob or anyone else she cares about is kept safe as well. In short, she is the very best kind of protagonist. She gets into trouble because she is brave, compassionate and sacrificial.
Sarah and Rob are well matched, because he is brave, compassionate and sacrificial as well. Without offering spoilers as to specific details, I have to say that I particularly enjoyed the middle section of the book. Rob's fortunes shift drastically and the manner in which, with Sarah's influence and input, he adjusts to those circumstances is a very entertaining read. Theirs is a relationship in which we experience, every step of the way, that these two people are made for each other. They are an ideal match in temperament, outlook and personal ethics. Every romance novel implicitly claims that the protagonists are soul mates, but MJP delivers on that promise in every possible way in this moving story.
As always for MJP, the historical detail of her story is precisely and accurately done, but it is offered as a natural, seamless backdrop, never intruding on the story itself. That is, there is never any feeling in a book by MJP that we are reading a dull recitation of historical facts. Instead, we are immersed in a world as real and vivid as if we had a personal time machine that had delivered us in the midst of the colorful, Regency era.
I rate this book as follows:
Heroine: 5 stars
Hero: 5 stars
Subcharacters: 5 stars
Romance Plot: 5 stars
Action-Adventure Plot: 5 stars
Historical World-Building: 5 stars
Writing: 5 stars
Overall: 5 stars