Lady Holland Taylor has been mourning the loss of her beloved husband for the past three years. She and her young daughter, Rose, have been living under the good graces of her husband's family, and while it is a comfortable arrangement, Holly feels like something is missing in her life. When she ventures out for her first ball since her husband's death, Holly feels one of her terrible headaches coming on, and temporarily takes refuge in a quieter part of the house. Just as she steps out into the cool night air, Holly finds herself swept up in the strong arms of a stranger and thoroughly kissed with a passion she has never felt before. It awakens feelings in her that she had thought long dead, which frighten her and cause her to flee from the ball.
From the moment Zachary Bronson kissed Holly by mistake, he knew he had to have this beguiling creature. After learning her identity from his hostess, Zachary makes arrangements to have tea with Holly, where he offers to employ her as a social etiquette coach for him and his family. Zachary is an incredibly wealthy man who had worked his way up through the ranks, but still is not accepted by the nobility because of his low-born origins, and Holly can give him the skills he needs to earn their respect. Holly has always been a proper lady who plays by society's rules, and accepting Zachary's offer would be nothing short of scandalous. Still, she can't help but be tempted by the outrageous fortune he has offered for her services which will surely secure her daughter's future, and even more disconcertingly, she finds herself irresistibly drawn to Zachary's darkly passionate and rakish nature. Living together under the same roof only adds fuel to the burning fire of their desire for one another, but Holly still can't quite let go of her dead husband's memory. She also finds herself confused over promises she made to him on his deathbed, and may not be able to come to terms with allowing herself to love again before breaking the heart of the man that she now realizes she loves more than life itself.
Lately, I've allowed myself to become distracted from some of my favorite authors, so it has been quite a while since I've read a Lisa Kleypas novel. Where Dreams Begin has been on my TBR pile for nearly two years, and I believe that was due in part to it rarely being mentioned as a fan favorite which led me to believe that it probably wasn't one of her stronger efforts. Now that I've finally read it, I'm kicking myself for not picking it up sooner. In my opinion, Where Dreams Begin is every bit as good if not better than Ms. Kleypas' other works (that I've read to date), and I found it to be a real pleasure to read. I thought it embodied her trademark style in both plot and characterizations, and although perhaps not quite as steamy as some of her later books, it was still plenty sensuous. There was also quite a bit of lightly humorous bantering between the hero and heroine that really livened things up, and lots of sweet, tender romance. Where Dreams Begin was an all-around wonderful story about a proper lady who is tasked with making a silk purse out of a sow's ear, only to find out that it's the roughness around the edges which make her hero so attractive to begin with.
Zachary was yet another of Lisa Kleypas' heroes who begins as an ordinary low-born man, but uses his intelligence, diligence and determination to work his way into a hard-earned fortune. He is a real diamond in the rough with a heart of gold who has never forgotten his humble roots and is constantly working for the betterment of the lower classes much to the consternation of the upper classes. It is often said that one can tell the measure of a man by how he regards his mother, which to my way of thinking makes Zachary a virtual saint. He has a huge heart behind his enormous bank account and treats his mother like a queen and his sister like a princess, and can't help spoiling both Holly and her daughter, Rose, too, when they come to live with him. Zachary is more of a father-figure to Rose than her blood uncles were after her father died. He absolutely adores this little girl from the moment they meet and the feeling is mutual. Their scenes together positively melted my heart. Zachary may be as sweet as pie and take the utmost care of the women in his life, but he is a completely incorrigible, unrepentant rogue until his love for Holly literally brings him to his knees. In business, Zachary has a take-no-prisoners approach and a reputation for doing anything it takes to get the job done, and he also has a natural knack for bending others to his will to get what he wants without being overly arrogant. Described as an "ape" by a member of the nobility, this hulking man was not considered particularly attractive by the standards of the era, but he certainly was incredibly appealing to Holly, and I'm sure will be to most readers as well, myself included. It might have been nice to have a little deeper insight into the hardships that Zachary endured which made him the man he was in the story, but overall, he was yet another delectable hero to come from Lisa Kleypas' talented pen.
Holly was no slouch herself. She was a strong and courageous woman who carried on with life after the death of her beloved husband even though she felt like rolling up in a ball and dying herself. Even though it has been three years, Holly is still grieving her husband's passing when she and Zachary meet and share an accidental but incredibly passionate kiss. I loved how she took a chance and followed the desires of her heart when Zachary offered her employment as a social etiquette tutor to him and his family. It took a lot of spunk to risk becoming a social pariah for living under the roof of a man who was looked down upon by the ton in order to better her daughter's future. Not to mention, the backbone it took to keep a rake like Zachary in line. Holly was incredibly prim and proper, having had an extremely loving marriage with her first husband, albeit a somewhat puritanical one. By comparison, Zachary's dark sexuality is almost overwhelming for her, but I liked that she was up to the challenge. He may have made Holly blush to her toes on occasion, but I admire her for never shying away from his hot-blooded nature and for embracing her own unexplored passions that were lurking beneath the surface right from the start. I also liked that Holly had a sense of humor and was often amused by Zachary's blunt comments rather than being offended by them. I did feel like shaking her a couple of times when I felt like she was taking a little too long to come to her senses and realize that Zachary was perfect for her, but at the same time, I understood her fears and reluctance. Ms. Kleypas did a good job of conveying Holly's continuing grief over the loss of her husband and her confusion over keeping promises that she had made to him on his death bed, but I did get a little impatient while waiting for her to come to terms with everything and accept that she could fall in love again.
The secondary characters were great too. Little Rose was just as cute as a button, and in my opinion, rendered in a very age-appropriate way. She really added a lot to every scene she was in. Zachary's sister, Elizabeth was a vivacious young woman looking for a love of her own, but not feeling that she was good enough to land the kind of husband she wanted. Zachary's mother, Paula, also felt unworthy of the station to which she found herself elevated by her son's wealth. She was a very shy woman who found directing servants to be a difficult adjustment after having worked in jobs that were even lower than they were. Holly and her husband, George's best friend, Vardon, ended up being a wonderful man who deserved his own HEA. Ms. Kleypas mentions on her website that she might write a story for him someday if she can find the right one. There was even a surprise cameo by the handsome, young Dr. Jacob Linley who played a strong role in the Bow Street Runners series and has his own little story in Against the Odds, a novella from the Where's My Hero? anthology. All in all, I thought it was a very nice well-rounded cast.
There were many memorable elements in Where Dreams Begin. Ms. Kleypas managed to seamlessly weave lots of information on social etiquette into the story which I found to be quite interesting. I really enjoyed the shrewd negotiations that took place between Zachary and Holly for her employment, as well as their bantering in general. Most of all, I loved how Zachary and Holly simply enjoy each others company, while slowly building a friendship, and how Zachary comes to the realization that he would rather spend a quiet evening with Holly than go out carousing in town. The only thing that could have made this better is if the reader had been made privy to more in-depth conversations between them which I thought would have added a more intimate feel to their relationship. The sexual tension was good with several "almost" moments to fill in the long stretch between their initial smoldering kiss in the first chapter and their next which didn't occur until about 2/3 of the way into the book. I'll admit I became somewhat impatient, but the author made up for it with plenty of sensuality in the last third of the story. I've never been a fan of anger turned to passion moments, so I have to commend Ms. Kleypas on her writing of a couple of these scenes. Even when Zachary and Holly had been arguing, their anger never spilled over into their lovemaking. Instead it was every bit as tender as if they had started from a calmer place, which I loved. I don't want to give away too much, but there were some wonderful moments in the final chapters that were both sweet and intense, which really conveyed the depth of love this couple shared. Other than the few minor complaints I've already voiced, Where Dreams Begin was a really lovely book that allowed me a few blissful hours of escape from reality. In my opinion, this is one of Lisa Kleypas' most undervalued works, and one that has certainly earned a place on my keeper shelf.
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