Difficult and defiant as a child, Bran Crowther, Earl of Knighton left England as a young man to pursue independence and adventure. He never expected to inherit the title and when duty calls him home, he still finds Society’s codes constricting and others’ expectations oppressive. Nevertheless, he needs a wife to be a mother to his young daughter, preferably a woman of intelligence and warmth who is, above all, immune to his idiosyncrasies—and to falling in love.
Widow Joanna Shaw isn’t interested in a second marriage, not after the loveless, passionless union she endured. She’d much rather dote on her young niece and nephew since they will likely be the only children in her life...until she meets a precocious girl, in desperate need of a mother. But her father, the so-called Duke of Defiance, is as peculiar as he is handsome, and Jo won’t take another risk with her heart. Their rules, however, are made to be broken, even when the consequences could destroy them both.
Feeling as constricted as he had in the ballroom, he shrugged out of his coat and draped it over his arm.
“Are you disrobing again?” she asked.
“You can hear that?”
“I’m afraid so. But since I can’t see you, it really doesn’t signify.”
He chuckled, pleased with her logic. “As it happens, I’d already untied my cravat before I arrived here.”
“I can’t even manage to feign shock.” Now her voice held a lilt of humor, as if she were smiling.
He laughed again, and a cool, early spring breeze wafted over him. How he missed the warmth of Barbados.
“Will you tell me about it?” she asked.
Had he said that out loud—about Barbados? Apparently so. “I could stand here all night and not manage to tell you everything.”
“Then just tell me something.”
He closed his eyes and summoned his home. “The colors there are like nothing you’ve ever seen—the blue-green water, the white-gold sand, colors that not even the rainbow can do justice to.”
“It sounds beautiful.” Her voice was soft, almost reverent. “How did you decide to go there?”
He opened his eyes but still couldn’t see her. “That was where the ship was headed. I didn’t care where I was going, so long as it wasn’t here.”
“You must have been terribly miserable.” She sounded as if she’d moved a bit closer.
“I wasn’t needed here.” Or wanted, really. His entire family had encouraged him to buy a commission or perhaps take a vicarage. He’d considered both ideas, but after his brothers had spread that vicious rumor, he’d simply walked on the first ship leaving England. And he’d never looked back.
“And now?” Her question whispered over him, lulling him with its sweet curiosity.
“Now, I’m the earl. I’m needed.”
“And your brothers are gone.”
He exhaled, as if realizing for the first time that they really were gone. That he could perhaps be here and be happy. Or at least not miserable. Still, it wasn’t home. Not yet. “I miss the blazing sun.”
“Especially right now, I’d wager.”
He heard a tremor in her voice. “Wait, are you chilled? Where are you?” He reached out with his free hand and touched her.
Stepping forward—it didn’t take much to reach her—he settled his coat on her shoulders. “Better?” he asked.
“Yes, thank you.”
He didn’t take his hands away. “Why did you come out here?”
He heard the hesitation in her voice and felt a shiver in her body. He didn’t think that was from the night air. “You can tell me. If you want.”
“I felt…overwhelmed. As if I couldn’t breathe. I just needed to get out.”
God, he’d felt like that his entire life. “I was never able to sit still when I was younger. Or wear clothing. I often felt like I wanted to crawl out of my very skin. I used to scratch myself raw.”
“That sounds horrid. How did you stop?”
“I don’t know. Leaving here helped.”
“And now that you’re back? Things aren’t as bad as they were?”
No, he supposed they weren’t. Just as he had a few moments ago, when she’d pointed out that his brothers were indeed gone, he felt a lightness. Because of her.
Can a man who is not looking for love and a woman who is not interested in a loveless marriage ever have a happy ending? The answer is yes, although they discover there are other things in their lives that will make it more complicated. Like the other Untouchables characters, Bran and Jo are a unique pair, especially Bran with all his idiosyncrasies. They had a bit slow build to their relationship, even though their attraction was very much evident, as they both seemed to soothe and/or heal each other. While not my favorite of the series, I still enjoyed it very much as Ms. Burke always does a great job of making you feel what the characters do. The epilogue was great, I love seeing what the future looks like for the couples. Can't wait for the next book, the Duke of Danger!
I voluntarily reviewed an advanced reader copy of this book. I was not compensated for this review, all conclusions are my own.
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Darcy Burke is the USA Today Bestselling Author of hot, action-packed historical and sexy, emotional contemporary romance. A native Oregonian, Darcy lives on the edge of wine country with her guitar-strumming husband, their two hilarious kids who seem to have inherited the writing gene, and three Bengal cats. Visit Darcy online at her website and sign up for her newsletter, follow her on Twitter or like her Facebook page.
Check out the other books in The Untouchables series: