Someone is trying to kill Stephen Barrett, the Marquess of Glenfield. He decides to secretly go to his hunting lodge in the country for safety, but while traveling there, he is chased and shot. The ne'er-do-wells nearly succeed in their mission, and an unconscious Stephen is left for dead in a heavily wooded area off the road. Hayley Albright, a simple country spinster, is just returning from a business trip to London accompanied by two of her servants. When Hayley spots a riderless horse by the side of the road, her caring nature causes her immediate concern for the person whom the horse likely belongs to. She insists that they search for the missing rider right away. Upon finding Stephen seriously injured at the bottom of a steep hill, Hayley carefully dresses his wounds and the three carry him back to their carriage to transport him to her home. Not long after they arrive, Stephen briefly regains consciousness and believes he has just seen the face of an angel hovering over him.
Hayley has experienced more than enough loss in her life. With both of her parents having passed away, she is the glue that holds her family of four younger siblings, an elderly aunt and three old, mismatched friends of her father who act as her servants together. Even though things look grim, she swears that she will not allow the injured stranger to die, and for over a week she gently and patiently nurses him back to health. When Stephen finally regains consciousness long enough to be cognizant of his surroundings, he is immediately taken by the vision of a lovely young woman sleeping on a settee near his bed. It doesn't take long for him to recall that someone was trying to murder him, so when he is able to talk with Hayley, he gives her a partially false name, tells her he is merely a tutor and allows her to believe that he was set upon by highwaymen while traveling to a new position. Hayley invites Stephen to stay with her family as long as he needs to in order to fully mend. After sending for his best friend, Justin, and discussing the situation with him, they decide that hiding out in this remote country home is probably the best thing Stephen could do to elude the killer's grasp.
At first Stephen is rather mortified by these people who regularly engage in what he considers improper behavior. Things such as children and servants taking meals in the dining room and having lessons outdoors are unheard of in his world. It doesn't take long though for the unconventional Hayley and her brood to warm the heart that Stephen didn't even know existed. In their presence, Stephen experiences a healing of spirit as well as body, and Hayley finds the love that she had always dreamed of, but never thought possible in her present circumstances. What Stephen doesn't know though, is that Hayley harbors a secret. Unbeknownst to her family, they have been in dire financial straits since the death of her father, and so Hayley surreptitiously found employment in a position that could cause a great scandal. She fears that if Stephen finds out, he would be terribly disappointed in her. Of course, Stephen has been less than forthcoming with Hayley regarding his own identity, and fears the same of her if she were to discover his secret. He feels that a kind, caring soul like Hayley deserves far better that a cynical, jaded nobleman like himself. Perhaps with a little help from their friends and family, this pair will be able to face what they both know is deep in their hearts, and finally experience the love and happiness they both so richly deserve.
After reading a long string of pleasant but not great books, I had been looking for something special that would really catch my attention. With it's solid writing and fun, enjoyable story, Red Roses Mean Love was just the breath of fresh air I needed. Sometimes I am partial to dramatic, angst-filled plots, but other times, I can appreciate a straightforward, uncomplicated romance that is well-written just as much. Red Roses Mean Love was just such a one, that exhibited a certain beauty within it's simplicity. The development of the relationship of the hero and heroine is one of the most important elements in a romance novel for me, and Jacquie D'Alessandro did an amazing job of building Stephen and Hayley's right from the start. I love it when an author can turn everyday things such as a walk in the garden, a game of chess or shaving into a sensual experience. Ms. D'Alessandro used these things as well as mere glances or gentle touches to build just the right amount of sexual tension and create a truly romantic atmosphere. I was also impressed with her ability to tell the story of a cynical, dissolute young man without him being particularly dark. In fact, the narrative was generally very lighthearted with plenty of moments that made me smile or even laugh, but there were also many moments that were so heartwarming as to bring tears to my eyes. Overall, the book was simply a very pleasurable read.
I found both the hero and heroine to be likable characters, which is another thing that I felt strengthened the story for me. Stephen was a somewhat uptight nobleman who had never know the true warmth and love of family. At first, he thought that Hayley's family was scandalously eccentric and would eventually drive him to distraction, but he learned very quickly to lighten up. He was pleasantly surprised to find himself truly enjoying things such frolicking in the lake or attending a little girl's tea party. When it came to Hayley, Stephen also found more love, acceptance, and warmth than he had ever experienced in his life. Hayley was one of the most pleasant and well-balanced heroines I have read in a long while. She was bright, sunny and lighthearted, often teasing her loved ones, without seeming silly. She was sweet and gentle, but not afraid to speak her mind and stand up for herself when necessary. She was kind and unselfish, having put her dreams on the back burner to take care of her family, but was still able to open her heart to the possibility of love when it presented itself, and she was always intelligent and resourceful. Another thing that I liked about Hayley was her interest in the meanings of names and flowers which I though was a rather unique hobby. These are both topics that I personally have an interest in as well, so this made Hayley an even more relateable character. Even though Stephen and Hayley were from different worlds, they were able to find common ground and accept each other for who they were, creating a lovely pair that was very delightful to read.
The book also had a strong eclectic cast of likable secondary characters. I loved Hayley's family. Each of her four siblings had a unique personality, with youngest sister, Callie being particularly adorable. The half-deaf Aunt Olivia was a darling old lady and I couldn't help but laugh every time she started flirting with the handsome young men in the story. There was also some additional romance in the form of the blossoming love of Hayley's sister, Pamela and the local young doctor, Marshall Wentbridge, not to mention the obvious love shared by Stephen's sister, Victoria and his best friend, Justin, who are already a married couple. Hayley's three "servants" were a thoroughly funny and mismatched lot, who cared very deeply for their Miss Hayley. Even though the remaining members of Stephen's family were more dissolute than he was, they still played important roles, and it was nice to see them all redeemed in the end. Overall, I thought that Ms. D'Alessandro brought together a fine palette of characters whose personalities complemented each other perfectly.
Red Roses Mean Love was Jacquie D'Alessandro's first book, and I must say that it was a very impressive first effort. I really couldn't find anything to truly criticize about this book. Stephen may have fought his feelings a bit too much and there may have been a little too much "will-they-or-won't-they" have a happily-ever-after ending (although you know they will), but neither was at all overdone. The mystery element was definitely secondary to the romance, which is usually the way I prefer it, but was still as well-written as any other book containing a light mystery that I've read recently. Although mystery aficionados may find it easy to solve, I actually did not figure it out. Another plus side was that there was not a lot of bickering or big misunderstandings between Stephen and Hayley (the biggest issue in my opinion was Stephen not feeling worthy of Hayley even though he was a marquess and she was an untitled country miss), and when they did argue there was plenty of room for apologies and forgiveness. All in all, Red Roses Mean Love was an incredibly enjoyable and near perfect read for me that is a definite keeper. It may have been the first of Ms. D'Alessandro's books that I've read, but it most certainly will not be my last.
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