Genevieve Marshall fell madly in love with Christian Amesbury during a magical summer in Bath. Although they aren't yet officially engaged, she fully expects a proposal to be forthcoming, which she has every intention of accepting. However, her dreams of a life with Christian are destroyed when a detestable viscount, who's had a long-standing, obsessive interest in her, tries to blackmail her father. The man has evidence that Genevieve's father committed mutiny during his time in the Navy years ago, and the price for his silence is Genevieve's hand in marriage. Knowing that her father going to trial would most likely lead to both her parents' deaths, Genevieve agrees to a hasty wedding, while leading Christian to believe that he had been nothing more than an amusement.
When Genevieve jilted Christian, it was the ultimate betrayal. He's tried to get over her and get on with his life, but it hasn't been easy. He loved her more than he thought it possible to love anyone. One year later, Christian chances to witness a young woman throwing herself from a bridge into a raging river. He doesn't hesitate to rescue her, but when he realizes the woman is Genevieve, he's sorely tempted to throw her back. Before long though, he begins to wonder what her husband did to her to make her attempt suicide and beg to not be sent back to him, and soon he finds the icy sheath around his heart slowly melting. Christian agrees to help Genevieve run away by securing a position for her as a companion to his spinster sister who lives in a remote village near Scotland. He hopes that soon, the three of them can travel to the Continent where Genevieve will be safe from her husband's abuse, but before he can accomplish that, strange occurrences begin to happen, leading Genevieve to suspect her husband of playing a cruel game of cat and mouse with her. Christian has come to realize that he never stopped loving Genevieve and will do anything to protect her, but can he outwit a madman, who's intent on killing them both, before it's too late?
It's been three and a half years since Donna Hatch last released a full-length historical romance, and during that time, I've been eagerly awaiting the next installment in her Rogue Hearts series. Now that I've finally read A Perfect Secret, I can say unequivocally that it was worth the wait. Ms. Hatch definitely has a way with writing sweet romances that are utterly swoon-worthy, and she has a talent for conveying volumes of meaning in a simple look or touch. Every time I read one of her books I hardly miss not having steamy love scenes, because her stories are just so incredibly romantic without them.
Christian is now my favorite Donna Hatch hero, and he has also earned a spot among my all-time favorite heroes overall. He's a sweet beta male with a streak of alpha protectiveness. Christian is a gentle, sensitive artist who feels everything very deeply, so much so that seventeen years later, he's still blaming himself for his brother's death when they were children. While both their families were vacationing in Bath, Christian fell for Genevieve and loved her with a passion he never thought possible. Even though at twenty-three, he was on the young side to be marrying, he felt more than ready, so when Jen threw him over on a whim for another man, it was the ultimate betrayal. A year later, Christian chances to see a woman throwing herself off a bridge into a fast-moving river and doesn't hesitate to rush to her aid. When he pulls her out and realizes it's Jen, he's tempted to throw her back in, but the honorable gentleman in him won't allow it. Instead, he takes her to his family's estate and makes sure she's cared for, but he's understandably still upset with her and treats her rather coldly at first. Still, he can't help wondering what has happened to her in the past year that would make her want to attempt suicide and then beg not to be sent back to her husband. During these early chapters, he's a man who protests a bit too much, almost like he's trying to convince himself that he no longer loves Jen. Of course, slowly but surely the ice around his heart begins to melt and he comes around. Soon he's more than willing to risk scandal and her husband's wrath to keep her safe even without knowing the whole story of what drove her to this desperate place. I love how kind and tender Christian is with Genevieve, never giving her cause to worry or fear him even after all she's been through. He's even thoroughly insulted when she suggests that he wants something from her in exchange for helping her, perhaps to make her his mistress, but he's far too honorable for that. Perfect may have been an insult that his brothers threw at him while they were growing up, but Christian was indeed the perfect hero in every possible way.
Genevieve is a loving, dutiful and brave daughter, who agreed to marry a man she despised to protect her parents from accusations of something her father had done. She knew that if she didn't capitulate to Lord Wickburg's blackmail, her family would be ruined. Her father would most likely have hanged, and her mother, who was already in frail health, might have died as well, or at the very least, have been left a penniless widow. Jen couldn't allow that to happen to her wonderful parents, so she pretended she never loved Christian and entered into a loveless nightmare of a marriage to save them. After a year with her sadistic, abusive husband, and having tried to escape him once before, she finally took drastic measures, attempting suicide. Luckily, it was Christian who was there to save her, but after what she'd done to him, she was understandably frightened that he might send her right back to her husband. She's surprised and deeply touched when he agrees to help her escape by setting her up as a companion to his bluestocking, spinster sister, Rachel, who lives in a remote village on the Scottish border. When Jen suspects that her husband has found her and is playing a cruel cat and mouse game with her, she fears for both Christian and Rachel's lives. She considers running away to keep them safe, but then realizes it would hurt Christian terribly if she left him again and simply disappeared. In the end, she can't go through with it and decides to share her suspicions with him instead which was incredibly refreshing. Genevieve never stopped loving Christian. Memories of their time together and his tenderness helped to get her through the year with her abominable husband. When she sees all the risks he's willingly taking and the lengths he'll go to keep her safe, she only loves him more and knows that she must do everything in her power to escape her husband once and for all so she can be with the man she was meant to marry all along.
A Perfect Secret has a robust cast of secondary characters as well. All the Amesbury siblings were either present or mentioned in some way, and all of them showed unhesitating kindness to Genevieve. It was great to see Cole and Alicia (The Stranger She Married) still blissfully happy and expecting their first child. Cole and Jared (The Guise of a Gentleman) also band together to help Christian. The final Amesbury brother, Grant, is a brooding and aloof Bow Street Runner who seems to live in a gray area. No one is quite sure which side of the law he's on, as he seems to be willing to do some pretty questionable things for the greater good. In spite of Grant and Christian seeming to have a long-standing, mostly silent, feud over the death of their brother, Grant willingly steps in to help Chris keep Jen safe, even though he doesn't seem to have much use for the fairer sex. It was great to see them, more or less, patching things up by the end, and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what kind of woman it takes to bring this intense man to his knees. Their sister, Rachel, is a very intriguing character. She's an amateur botanist who wants to write a book about plants. She's also a firmly on the shelf spinster, but deep down, she longs for the kind of love her parents shared. I have a feeling her hero is going to be James, an old friend of her brothers' who shows up to challenge Christian to a steeplechase. He's a libertine who it's hinted may have previously broken Rachel's heart. As an aside, I was so glad that Rachel didn't tell Jen about their brother's death and why it affected Christian so deeply. Too often in romances, a secondary character shares information about a primary character which in my opinion takes away an opportunity for intimacy between the hero and heroine. Having her tell Jen that maybe someday Christian would share that story with her was the perfect way to handle the situation and an extremely refreshing change of pace. Last but not least, we're also introduced to Connor Jackson, a fellow Bow Street Runner and friend of Grant, who also has ties to Christian. He's played up enough in this book that I can't help wondering if he might become the hero to Margaret, Rachel's twin and the final Amesbury sibling, who is mentioned in the background as also being in a horrible marriage.
Overall, A Perfect Secret was a perfect story. I can't think of a single thing I would have changed. It's a deeply romantic tale of two people who never stopped loving one another and who risked everything to be together again despite the odds against it. All the characters were wonderful, and there's just enough suspense to keep the reader on the edge of their seat. This wonderful book, along with her previous works I've read, have definitely earned Donna Hatch a spot on my favorite authors list. I know that she has stories planned for all the remaining Amesbury siblings, but it was difficult to tell from this book who will be next. I'd venture to guess it's probably going to be either Rachel or Grant. Whichever one it is, I'm eagerly looking forward to the next book, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it won't be another three years before I can read it.:-)
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
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