As the daughter of an earl, Lady Aline Marsden was expected to do one thing, and that was to marry well with someone who was her social equal. However, just as the time was approaching for her to become more serious about finding a husband, she found herself madly in love with McKenna, an orphaned stableboy on the family's estate, whom she had known since childhood. Aline could scarce imagine living without him, but when their clandestine love was revealed, her father threatened to have McKenna ruined unless the young man left immediately and never returned. Knowing that she was the only one who could make McKenna stay away and thereby keep him safe, Aline cruelly broke off their relationship, making him think she didn't love him anymore and disdained his low birth, even though it nearly killed her to do so. Not long after, she suffered a serious accident that nearly killed her and left her legs badly scarred. That's why when McKenna finally does return twelve long years later, Aline has never married. She longs to give herself to the man she's never stopped loving, but she simply cannot bear to have him reject her because of her imperfections.
Even though he knew that nothing could come of his affair with Aline, John McKenna was happy in his role as servant at Stony Cross and adored her, until the day that she ripped his heart out by sending him away, and he's never forgiven her for it. During the ensuing years, he moved to America where he's become a wealthy businessman, but his heart has been empty. When he and his business partner travel to England to find investors, he cannot resist returning to Stony Cross, this time as a valued guest, but his intentions aren't entirely business related. McKenna wants revenge on Aline for the pain she caused him, and he's prepared to seduce her no matter what and then leave her. The seduction part proves easier than expected, but what he didn't anticipate were the long-denied feelings for Aline that resurface, making him long for the life they never had. With his newfound wealth, a real relationship might now be possible, but when Aline seemingly rejects him once again, can McKenna get her to tell him the truth and will it be enough to earn his forgiveness?
Again the Magic is yet another of Lisa Kleypas' books that I decided to reread this year. As with the other three (the Bow Street Runners series), I added it to GoodReads nearly a year after first reading it and rated it using my apparently faulty memory.:-) Also, as with the others, I decided to increase my rating from 4.5 stars to the full five. I guess this isn't too surprising, because for some reason, I remembered more of this story than the others even though ten years have passed by since I first read all of them. I did recall being a tad bit frustrated with the heroine and that didn't really change, but the hero was yummy and the story was an intense, angsty, romantic one that gave me all kinds of feels, just the way I like them. Not to mention, I basically got two romances for the price of one, which made it even better. So now that I'm actually writing a review of the book, I'm more than happy to officially give it keeper status. It's definitely a book that I could read again and again.
Aline is a titled lady and the sister of Marcus Marsden, the Earl of Westcliff, the hero of It Happened One Autumn, the second book of Ms. Kleypas' popular Wallflowers series. When she was only a little girl, a young orphaned boy was brought to the family estate of Stony Cross to work as a servant. They became fast friends, often playing together, and as they grew older, they fell madly in love. There was no reality in which an aristocratic lady could marry a servant boy, but they both entertained their feelings for one another, as well as the fantasy of someday being together, until her cold, hard-hearted father found out about their clandestine affections. When he threatened to ruin McKenna, Aline bargained with her father to find him another position and that in return she would break things off in such a way that he would never come back. It just about killed her to do it, but she made McKenna believe that she didn't really love him and had only been toying with his affections so that he left on his own. Not long after, Aline had a near-fatal accident involving a fire in the kitchen that left her legs severely scarred. Because of this, she has no intention of marrying anyone. Instead she became fast friends with Adam, a titled gentleman who owns a neighboring estate but who is gay. They pretend to fancy one another, because it keeps suitors at bay for both of them. Fast-forward twelve years, and McKenna returns, a wealthy and successful businessman, and he makes it clear that he intends to bed Aline. She wants that, too, but she fears that if he sees her scars, he'll pity her or worse, outright reject her, so she very nearly lets him get away again. I liked Aline and sympathized with her situation. I think perhaps I understood her a little better the second time around, which may be why I raised my rating for the book, but she did frustrate me just a bit. It seemed to me that the pain of losing McKenna a second time wouldn't be any worse than taking a chance on his reaction to her scars, but I admit that her stubbornness did allow her brother to step up and do the right thing, as well as set up an emotion-laden and dramatic conclusion to the story that I loved.
John McKenna, who was known to everyone as simply McKenna was content in his role as servant at Stony Cross until Aline ripped his heart out when they were teenagers. Then he became a very driven man, striving for success, which finally found him when he moved to New York and chanced to meet the elder son of a wealthy American family. Together they built a business empire that was raking in money, but despite all that he now has, Aline has never stopped haunting him. When business takes them back to England, he returns to Stony Cross, this time as an honored guest, where he has every intention of getting revenge by seducing Aline and leaving her. But it soon becomes apparent that the magical connection between them still burns bright. He realizes that he long ago lost his heart to this woman and has never stopped loving her even though she still refuses to let him be anything more than her paramour. I loved the sweet, unjaded McKenna we see in the opening chapters. He's a dreamer who wears his heart on his sleeve. The McKenna who comes back twelve years later is cynical and brooding. A couple of times, he made me doubt his feelings with his assertions that he only wanted revenge, but I could still see through the anger and frustration seething inside him to find glimmers of the sweet boy he once was. Despite what he says, his feelings for Aline come through loud and clear in his actions. He's a tender, passionate lover, he can be a romantic with the right incentive, and he didn't disappoint with his reaction when Aline finally confessed all at the end. In fact, his anger at her was absolutely perfect, because he expressed my own frustrations toward her, and his refusal to allow her to hide from him anymore was brilliant.
In addition to Aline and McKenna, we get a secondary romance between McKenna's business partner, Gideon, and Aline's younger sister, Olivia. Livia has been pining for her lost love, a man to whom she was engaged but who died two years ago. She had slept with him and became pregnant, miscarrying after his death, so she's also a social pariah who spends her time locked up at Stony Cross. But Gideon stirs her interest and helps bring her back to life. For his part, Gideon is the second son of the Shaw family of the American aristocracy, but after his older brother's death, he found himself the head of the family. The pressures of that seem to weigh rather heavily upon him, which was perhaps in part what led to him becoming an alcoholic. Gideon and Livia are quite the pair, but together they help each other to heal. I loved them as a couple. Their steamy relationship unfolds right alongside Aline and McKenna's, and they bring even more romance to the book as a whole.
Again the Magic is a truly magical story. I love reunion romances, as well as heroes and heroine who are childhood sweethearts or who are from opposite sides of the tracks, so this book hit the spot for me in more ways than one. Even though I kind of wish that Aline and McKenna had been able to have a little more faith in each other's love, the way things played out led to some great emotion and drama. They were truly a match made in heaven, and I'm so glad they finally got together. After all they'd been through, they certainly deserved it. Having Gideon and Livia fall in love and find their HEA right beside them only sweetened the pot. There were some great secondary characters, too. Marcus is the logical and protective but caring older brother. Adam was a great friend to Aline, always there when she needed him, making me wish that he could have gotten a story of his own, too. Then there's Mrs. Faircloth, the housekeeper who was like a mother to both Aline and McKenna. She's loyal to a fault and a kind lady who got a wonderful ending as well. It appears that a number of book websites now have Again the Magic listed as a prequel to the Wallflowers series, which I suppose is fitting since Marcus plays such an important role and since it's set almost entirely as Stony Cross Park, where some of the Wallflowers books also take place. I originally read it as a stand-alone novel, and despite having read the Wallflowers since, I still think it stands well on its own. In any case, it's a wonderful story that I hope to revisit again in the future.
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