Monday, February 13, 2017

The Fairest of Them All - Cathy Maxwell (Avon - June 2016)

Series: Marrying the Duke (Book 2)

The penniless orphan of a disreputable earl, Lady Charlene Blanchard thrives on the adventure of picking the pockets of unsavory gentlemen to survive. But due to her extraordinary beauty and prized bloodlines, she is hand-chosen as a potential bride for the Duke of Baynton, who is on the hunt for a suitable wife to provide heirs. All Char has to do is act the part she was born to play and charm a duke she’s never laid eyes on into proposing. Except the duke turns out to be the tall, dark and sexy stranger who just caught her red-handed as a thief!

Or is he? Jack Whitridge is the duke’s twin who had “gone missing” over ten years ago. Now back in England, he knows that the supposed Lady who has his brother’s love is hardly duchess material -- except he needs her to save his adopted country from war. He is willing to bargain with her heart, until he finds himself falling for Char . . .

Good book. Lady Charlene is the daughter of an earl but is a penniless one, living with her mother's illegitimate half-sister and trying to make ends meet. She has discovered a talent for picking pockets and uses that talent to augment her aunt's theater income. Her career nearly comes to an end when she is caught by the companion of her latest victim. She manages to get away, but her relief is short-lived. A family friend has managed to get her an introduction to Gavin Whitridge, Duke of Bayton, who is looking for a wife. But he also happens to be the twin brother of the man who had caught her stealing.

Jack Whitridge had disappeared without a trace more than ten years ago. He has unexpectedly returned to England as a member of an American delegation trying to prevent war between England and America. He'd like to reconcile with his family, especially Gavin, but the gulf between them may be too wide to do so. It doesn't help things that he's also attracted to the woman Gavin wants for his wife.

Gavin Whitridge, Duke of Baynton, just can't win. He had been engaged to Elin Morris all his life, until she fell in love with his brother Ben (The Match of the Century). Now he is on the hunt for a wife and settles on Lady Charlene. He is smitten with her from the moment he meets her, and courts her in a sweet, yet awkward way. The reappearance of his brother Jack throws a kink in his plans, as he must deal with his feelings about his twin's arrival.

There was an immediate spark between Charlene and Jack when they met. I loved that first meeting, as Char robs his friend and Jack gives chase. Her escape from him is pretty funny, though not for Jack. Both are stunned to discover that they are linked to the Duke. Char knows that she should pursue the proposed match between herself and Gavin, whom she likes but feels no spark with. Her aunt and godmother are both pushing her toward him, wanting Char to have the life they feel she deserves. But she can't keep Jack out of her mind. Their connection gets even closer when he saves her from the nefarious plans of a local group of criminals. Jack also can't stop thinking about Char. He is there on a diplomatic mission, which isn't going all that well. He needs Gavin's help to make the connections he needs. Jack and Char are frequently thrown together, thanks to those efforts, and their attraction grows.

Things come to a head when Gavin realizes what is happening right beneath his nose. His jealousy causes him to take action against Jack. A rescue by Char, followed by a run for Gretna Green and a chase by Gavin and Char's aunt Sarah, make an exciting ending to the story. I loved the journey made by Jack and Char as they discover just how right for each other they are. The pursuers, Gavin and Sarah, don't have as amiable a trip, as they constantly rub each other the wrong way. The confrontation at Gretna Green finally has Jack and Gavin talking honestly with each other, leading to hope for a true reconciliation. I liked the epilogue and the update on Char and Jack's life together.

I liked Charlene and her determination to help her aunt Sarah. Her internal conflict as she was torn between duty and love was very real. I ached for her as she tried to find her way. I liked Jack and his loyalty to his new country. He really wanted to help stop the war that he saw coming. However, I thought he was a bit selfish for not contacting his family once he was settled in America and letting them know he was alive and well. I was rather glad that he had to work at reconciling with them. I did like his protectiveness toward Char. The one I felt the most for was Gavin. He had lost his twin, leaving him feeling very alone as he was growing up and dealing with a demanding father. Then as an adult, to lose not one, but two potential brides to his brothers, was especially frustrating for him. He was also pretty complex, sometimes being really nice, understanding and supportive, and at others he was arrogant, cold and devious. I'm looking forward to the next book and seeing him finally find someone to love. If the hint during this book is true, he's in for a wild ride.

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