Frances Allard is a teacher at Miss Martin's School for Girls in Bath. As she's returning to the school following a less-than-stellar Christmas break, snow begins to fall. Soon the entire countryside is blanketed in white, putting her rickety carriage in a precarious position. When her driver is overtaken by another carriage under such dangerous weather conditions, Frances can't help thinking the other driver and his passenger are utterly rude. And when said carriage unexpectedly stops in front of them, sending her own careening into a snowbank, Frances is quite put out. Even though the other passenger comes to her aid, she still gives him an earful. But she can't help thinking that he is rather attractive, and if the gentleman hadn't acted so discourteously, she might actually be interested in him.
Lucius Marshall is also returning home after an unsatisfactory holiday season. After finding out his grandfather is in poor health, Lucius, who is his grandfather's heir, has promised to marry before the year is out. Up until now, he's been greatly enjoying his carefree bachelorhood, so Lucius is not in good humor about the state of his life when he goes to rescue the lady. The two of them exchange heated words, but with the roads rapidly becoming impassable and Frances' carriage hopelessly stuck, they have no recourse but to head for the next village together. There they find a deserted inn that has been closed up while the owners are away celebrating Christmas and settle in to wait out the storm. In such close proximity, an intense attraction quickly starts to brew, eventually leading to a memorable night of passion. After what they've shared, Lucius simply cannot let this beguiling creature go. When she coldly turns down his offer to accompany him back to London, he's heartbroken but decides that it's probably for the best. Months pass, though, and still he cannot forget her. When fate conspires to reunite them time and time again, can Lucius find a way to break down Frances' walls and convince her to marry him, or are they doomed to live unhappy lives apart because of mistakes she made in the past?
Simply Unforgettable is the first book in Mary Balogh's Simply Quartet, which follows four teachers at Miss Martin's School for Girls in Bath. I didn't realize until I'd already started reading it that this series is essentially a spin-off of her Bedwyn Family Saga, which I probably should have read first. I didn't have any trouble following Simply Unforgettable, but I have a strong feeling that Miss Martin herself was likely introduced in the Bedwyn books and there may have been some other common characters as well of which I'm unaware. According to Mary Balogh's website, the heroes of the remaining three Simply books were all introduced in the Bedwyn Prequels, so I'll definitely go back and read those first before continuing on with the Simply Quartet. As I mentioned though, Simply Unforgettable stood quite well on its own, and there was no indication that the hero or heroine had been previously introduced.
The first teacher in this series to find her HEA is Frances. She had an Italian mother and emigrated to England with her French aristocrat father, following her mother's death, when she was only a babe. Frances is an extremely talented singer and works at the school, teaching music and French. After spending her Christmas break with her two elderly great-aunts, she's returning to the school in their carriage when a nasty snowstorm hits. After being passed by another carriage that in her estimation is driving rather recklessly, her own carriage slides off the road. She is rescued by none other than the passenger of the other carriage, to whom she promptly gives a piece of her mind. Needing to get in out of the snow and with nowhere else to take shelter, they end up at a country inn all by themselves and thus begins an epic love affair.
Once she gets past her initial ire at her savior, Frances finds herself irresistibly attracted to him and very much enjoys the time she spends with him at the cozy little inn, which includes an unforgettable night of passion. In her mind, due to scandalous complications from her past, there can never be anything more between them, especially after she finds out he's an aristocrat and not the mere gentleman she took him for at first. Lucius offered to take Frances with him to London but with no real plan as to what she would be to him. At this point, I admired Frances for respecting herself enough to not become Lucius' mistress, even though I don't know if I could have done the same with the feelings between them being so intense. She also didn't handle the situation quite as graciously as she probably could have, leaving poor Lucius a tad demoralized, but I understood that she wanted to leave no question in his mind that those few days were all they could ever share. As things progressed though, and fate brought them back together, making Lucius press his suit more determinedly, I have to admit that Frances' stubbornness became just a little frustrating. When she turned down his first marriage proposal, I understood that it was because she felt it was made in an impulsive moment and that he wasn't truly in love with her, but as he kept coming back time and time again, I couldn't help wondering what could be so bad in her past that she wouldn't even entertain the mere notion of a deeper relationship with him. However, I can't deny that the constant back and forth and will-they-or-won't-they vibe definitely kept me on the edge of my seat wondering how they were ever going to work things out. I'll also admit that when the truth finally came out, Frances' misgivings did make perfect sense, so I was able to forgive her frustrating behavior. It was also abundantly clear that she loved Lucius, and at least in part, was doing it to protect him (as well as her aunts) from potential scandal.
Lucius is a prince among men. He's been living the carefree life of a bachelor, with no immediate plans to settle down anytime soon, but that all changed for him over his Christmas holiday. He found out his grandfather's heart is failing, and with him being the heir to the earldom, he made his grandfather a promise to marry before he passes away. After spending those couple of magical days with Frances at the inn, he wants more than anything to continue their time together. Lucius could be so cute and funny. It was hilarious when he got miffed that Frances called their romantic interlude and love-making "pleasant." After that put-down and her subsequent refusal to see him again, he thinks he can brush her off as just another conquest, but for the next few months, he simply can't seem to forget her. When fate conspires to bring them back together, he takes the ball and runs with it. I absolutely adored Lucius for his persistence and determination to win Frances no matter what he had to do. Once he realizes she's the one he wants, he absolutely won't take no for an answer. Of course, she turns him down repeatedly with her mouth, but her body language always tells him something different, which makes him resolved to get to the bottom of her reservations. I also loved that when Lucius realizes the great talent Frances has, he's hell-bent on giving her the singing career she deserves, even if it doesn't lead to rekindling their romance. I just can't give Lucius enough props for keeping his eyes on the prize and never giving up in the face of seemingly impossible odds.
I also have to give the author props for making me completely buy into this couple's love for one another. Lucius and Frances basically have a case of love at (almost) first sight. This usually isn't one of my favorite romance tropes, because most authors fail to make me feel that connection and to fully understand why they love one another in such a short time span. Not so here. Lucius and Frances begin by sharing some utterly witty bantering, which amused me greatly. I also enjoyed how joyous and playful they were - almost like children - when they really let themselves go and feel the moment, simply basking in each other's companionship. Their attraction is readily apparent, but goes beyond the physical. It's entirely possible their relationship might have continued without interruption if Lucius had been a mere gentleman instead of a titled aristocrat. I love how they both pine for each other throughout their three month separation, even though they both stubbornly try to deny it. At this point, their obstinacy was quite amusing, because it's so completely apparent how perfect they are for one another. They're simply trying too hard to deny it, a definite case of methinks they doth protest too much. Even when Frances became a bit too stubborn about it, I could still tell that some part of her wanted to give in, but because of the past she felt she couldn't. When Lucius kept coming back over and over and finally decimated her every qualm, Frances just couldn't say no anymore, and it was a wonderful moment that left me with a sigh of happiness.
Simply Unforgettable has a great supporting cast as well. Lucius' family are all wonderful and supportive of him, even though he's kind of been avoiding them for a while. His grandfather and his youngest sister, Amy, were my particular favorites, because his grandfather was wise and understanding, while Amy's enthusiasm was infectious. Portia, the woman Lucius has known since childhood and is considering as his bride, proves exactly why being "perfect" is not a desirable trait. Then there are the other three teachers from the school who are also Frances' best friends. Claudia (aka Miss Martin) is a kind woman, but one who comports herself in a very proper manner that makes me eager for her to find a hero who will ruffle her feathers a bit. Susanna, the youngest of the group, was one of the charity girls who was previously a student but stayed on after graduating to teach. She dreams of marrying a duke, so I'll be looking forward to seeing if she realizes that dream. Last but not least is Anne, who as the mother of a young son who lives with her at the school, seems to have some intriguing secrets of her own that need to be uncovered, and I can't wait to see what they are. She's the heroine of the next book of the series, Simply Love.
Simply Unforgettable is a very aptly titled book. Not only were Lucius and Frances simply unforgettable to one another, but their story is one I won't soon be forgetting either. It was a little more lighthearted than the previous two books I read by Mary Balogh, but certainly no less appealing. Ms. Balogh really has a way with expressing emotion that makes the reader connect with her characters and understand what they're thinking and feeling. Simply Unforgettable struck the perfect balance between touching and funny. I loved every minute I spent reading it and was always excited to get back to it when I had to lay it aside. It has earned this incredibly talented writer a spot on my favorite authors list, and I can't wait to read more of her books in the future.
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