Dane Pendleton and Jemma Carson fell madly in love in their youth, but despite their tender regard for one another, Jemma made a fateful decision to marry another man, a choice she almost immediately regretted. Broken-hearted, Dane went off to India to make his fortune, and during the ensuing years, Jemma became a widow. Now back in England, Dane finds himself challenged to a duel by none other than Jemma's brother who was deep in his cups at the time. As he prepares for the coming duel, Dane is interrupted by Jemma, who has come to plead for her brother's life, offering herself in exchange. The two former loves spend a passionate night together, during which truths are revealed. But is it enough to change Dane's mind and can they finally have a future together?
"Nightingale" is a stand-alone novella about two former loves who, after youthful mistakes, get a second chance to spend their lives together. Dane and Jemma had known each other since childhood and fell madly in love when they were young. Dane had plans to become a clergyman and devote his life to helping others, something that Jemma supported, and they were thinking of getting married, but then she went off and married a titled gentleman seemingly out of the blue, leaving Dane heartbroken. Years have gone by, during which Dane went to India, where he hardened his heart and made his fortune. Now he's back in England, but his life seems rather empty. Then one night, he's challenged to a duel by Jemma's brother who is too drunk to know any better. Jemma, who is now a widow, comes to Dane to plead her brother's case. She offers to let him bed her in exchange for sparing her brother's life, but they both quickly discover that such close intimacy opens their hearts to one another again and that they can no longer live without each other.
I came very close to giving this novella more than four stars. It's a very emotional story that tugged on my heartstrings, and it's also deliciously steamy. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that four stars was the appropriate rating for me. The entire story takes place over a single night, during which Dane and Jemma reconnect, make confessions, offer forgiveness, and declare their undying love. Their prior connection made all of this more realistic, but it's still pretty quick. Also the characterizations aren't really deep. They're good enough for this shorter format, but I wouldn't have minded getting to know Dane and Jemma a bit better. Dane seemed like a good guy who'd had his heart smashed and reacted in a relatable manner, and despite everything, deep down, he has never stopped loving Jemma. I didn't dislike Jemma, but the fact that she'd made promises to Dane, which she broke, didn't entirely sit well with me either. It might have been the clichéd route to take, but I would have been more accepting if her family had unduly influenced her decision to marry the other man. Instead, it was chalked up to youthful naiveté, and was a decision she regretted almost immediately after saying her vows. She appeared to have grown since then, but I felt like she could have had more compelling reasons for what she did. Overall, though, in spite of a few weaknesses, I did very much enjoy "Nightingale," and it makes me look forward to trying more of Cathy Maxwell's work in the future. "Nightingale" was originally published in the anthology, The One That Got Away, but was later reprinted as a stand-alone ebook.
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