This is the third book in Edith Layton's series which begins with The Cad. The second book was Gilly's story, and we first encountered Hathaway Wycoff in that book; he was one of Gilly's admirers, a married man and a serial adulterer who could only offer her an affair. At first he seemed to pursue her with that in mind, but later he told her that he respected her too much to take her that way - although he did try to persuade her to go to America with him. He showed himself a true friend to Gilly, though, by giving her some very sound advice on a couple of occasions. We also discovered that he wasn't as wicked as he was portrayed by Society: his affairs had been prompted by his wife's open and unashamed adultery.
The Challenge takes up about a year after The Choice finishes. Wycoff is now in Virginia, contemplating buying land and starting a new life. He'd originally moved to America because he was fed up with unsatisfying affairs and he hoped to find a woman he could love and settle down with - even if that made him a bigamist. However, the death of his wife (before this book commences) leaves him free.
Lucy Stone, an impoverished widow with a nine-year-old son, is immediately taken with Wycoff, and he with her. She works at the hotel where he is staying, and soon they're spending as much time together as possible. But before their relationship can advance, Lucy finds out the devastating truth about him: his adulterous past, which makes him completely untrustworthy in her eyes. While he offers her marriage, she can't believe that he will be faithful; the legacy of her first marriage, to a man who failed to provide for her, leaves her unable to take Wycoff on trust.
So she decides to return to England, helped by her brother-in-law who expresses a very belated wish to meet his nephew. However, purely by coincidence, Wycoff is on the same ship... While they become closer on the voyage, she still refuses him - there is a beautiful, and very poignant, scene in which traditional positions are reverses: Lucy wants to make love, just once, with Wycoff, but he refuses because she won't marry him.
So in order to win her, he has to prove to her that he can be trusted; in order to do so, he sets about retrieving his reputation. Has a man ever tried so diligently to prove himself to the woman he loves?
Definitely a keeper!