Belle Blydon is taking a break from the ton, fed up of suitors who only pay attention to her looks and fortune (gosh, what a bind!), and ignore her intellect (well, she is something of a bluestocking). It is just as she's finishing her quest to read all of Shakespeare's plays in alphabetical order that she encounters the new neighbour to her cousin's estate. But just as she's beginning to enjoy their conversation, the man ups and leaves. Could it be that Belle Blydon, universally liked and loved by the ton, has found someone who dislikes her?
John, Lord Blackwood, was the youngest of seven children - neglected, ignored and assured that he would never amount to anything. But a highly successful career in the army has won him a title. A clear head and shrewd investments have finally paid off too, and he is now the proud owner of Bletchford Manor (he really must change the name).
While out walking his new property, he stumbles across Belle, but bad memories and personal failure make him abominably rude, and he hopes to have scared her off for good. John has achieved everything he has ever wanted, and he has no wish to dream for more.
Except that Belle is stubborn, and when she sees something good in a person she won't stop until all the world knows it's there too.
Haunted memories, mysterious notes, potential heartbreak, waltzes at midnight and a hilarious wedding bring out the best in this sweet, heartwarming tale. Emma, Alex, Ned and Dunford all return from 'Splendid' to add to the mix, but Belle holds her own in this step up from sidekick to heroine. John, too, is a hero worthy of her, even if he is a little confused, hesistant and stubborn at times.
However, the backstory of John's incident in Spain, that makes him unworthy, is some times a little disjointed. He seems to bounce between being a haunted man and a snob, with no real cohesion in the middle. By all accounts that's because this book was originally about class rather than demons, and it occasionally shows as a chunk of John's conscience rudely barges in without much need.
But this is all in the first half, and crops up rarely. Once John's reservations are forced aside all that's left is a trademark JQ gallop to the finish with John's past coming back in truth, a heartwarming confession of love and a bet that will surely come back to haunt Dunford (in 'Minx').
Another sweet, funny tale from JQ, and a worthy follow-up to 'Splendid'. Not her best, but even that makes it better than many, and always worth a read. Not to mention the poetry, which runs right through to an ending that can't do anything but make you smile.