Maximilian Burke, eldest son primed to inherit his father's dukedom, was jilted at the altar in the Pleasure of Your Kiss. It wasn't forged of true love or mutual honesty, so the marriage was doomed to fail. A kindness, to be sure, for Max was set to marry his younger brother, Ashton's, long-time love, Clarinda. Who does that?! While Ash was off sowing his wild oats, Max helped to mend Clarinda's broken heart. A courtship of nearly a decade (she wouldn't accept his proposal; warning bells should have deafened him!), Ash and Clarinda reunite, through Max's haphazard machinations, and Max is left unwed...and undoubtedly bitter. The once sought-after and well-respected bachelor is now mocked and subject to London gossip. Shunned by his own parents, Max decides to leave his childhood home, escape the murmurs, and manage the family's most remote property, the Cadgwyck Manor, just outside of Cornwall, England. Reeks of self-exile, if you ask me.
Despite his regrets, Max had to admit that relinquishing his heroic mantle was almost liberating...He needed to get out of London before he cast an even greater stain over his family's good name and his own title by killing someone. Most likely himself.Unceremoniously dumped at a local tavern instead of Cadgwyck Manor, Max proceeds to seek new transport. When the townspeople react oddly (someone in the back actually made the sign of the cross!), Max notices fear more than inhospitality. When Max wouldn't so much as ruffle at the nonsense of the Cadgwyck Manor being haunted, little wonder it would be a woman causing trouble (bitter, much?), Mrs. Anne Spencer knew she had to be extra careful with the new lord of the manor...her manor, as it were.
Assigned as the housekeeper of Cadgwyck Manor, Mrs. Spencer is truly at the helm and doesn't care for interlopers. Intruders will get in her way and ruin her master plan. What Max doesn't yet suspect is that supremely proper Mrs. Spencer is orchestrating mischief within his new home; deliberately goading him right back to London. When their brief, but too intimate, exchange about showing Max to his master suite stimulates her more than she cared to examine, a reconsideration is needed post haste!
She felt as if she'd just run up a dozen flights of stairs instead of walking down one. She lifted a hand to smooth her hair, the tremor of her fingers betraying her. The unflappable Mrs. Spencer had vanished, leaving Anne to pay the price for her composure.Cadgwyck Manor holds secrets that protect and alienate. Max refuses to indulge the fancy of a ghost (he's haunted as it is by personal regret and demons), so he researches its history. Time to double the ghost's efforts! But Max isn't so easily startled and so begins the unraveling of the story and each character's role in the manor. This is where it got a bit muddled; trappings of the previous book, I'm afraid. Perhaps the slow seduction could have been condensed, although it elicited nearly more swoons than the actual consummation. Medeiros is a master of simmering, steady assault of the sensual, but too many pertinent/critical pieces to the puzzle are crammed down your throat too close to the end. I was overwhelmed if not a little annoyed. The book took a few unexpected turns, but when the predictability hit, I was so disappointed, I'd forgotten about a theme or two that came to be resolved. Like the previous book, there was a lot to digest.
When the love scene took place, it was almost impractical in the timeline. The afterglow was ruined by a fevered muttering, but the reader was supposed to overlook its cruelty and/or find it endearing when Anne received the put-down. I could not participate in the offense and was quite "anti-Max" in my Kindle notes! Worthy of praise, and there are many, was the unexpected visit from Ash and Clarinda. I was quick to disapprove and judge them smug for torturing Max with their happiness, but it proved to be healing and proactive for both Max and Anne.
In the end, these two independent forces overburdened with so much responsibility came together, shed their tired, individual skins, to form an even more formidable union. Once all the truths were bared, the epilogue was terrific in particular for Anne (Max once again earned my swoon!), I remained firm in my resolve of loving Medeiros. I look forward to the next book...and the next...
...and the one after that as well,