Lessee...h, orphaned niece of blacksmith, catches attention of knight. Has delusions that knight - legitimate son of baron - would offer for her. Does downright embarrassing (to reader) things to catch his attention.
H - illegitimate half brother of said knight - attempts to discourage her and, seeing that brother is toying with her and getting her hopes up, suggests he end it with her.
Uncle wants old maid niece out from under his roof, offers her to H, who wants to be member of smithing guild. H takes him up on it.
Then the next...200 pages...more or less are filled with H looking at her much as she looked at his brother I think - when she's not looking - and keeping her at arms' length. She, OTOH, gets over (sort of) her longing for his brother and just goes through the motions. Neither talks to the other - at least, not until he discovers she's good at designing (and even then, she found out by accident that he had one of her sketches and was using it to make a sword).
They have a big blow up because brother shows up and tries to press his suit (for her to be his mistress), she finds out his secret, more angst, she gets hurt, then sick, he does a bit of soul-searching while she's ailing, makes declarations, and the book ends with her just recovered from the Fever of Forgiveness or whatever authors call that ailment that brings couples of convenience together for a HEA and about to make out (having not eaten or bathed or...anything really beyond a delayed conversation).
As an aside, guy on cover, while certainly easy on the eyes, does not look like a blacksmith. Also, h grew within a chapter or so from barely reaching the top of his shoulder to her cheek resting in the curve of his neck. So maybe by the end of the book, there was enough growth that she WAS almost as tall as he was. Hahah
Bid by King Edward to marry one of his knights, Aisley de Laci hopes to
avoid the altar by choosing Baron Montmorency. 'Tis a union she is
certain none will endorse, especially the baron, who is rumored to
practice the dark arts from his isolated keep.
Renowned in battle, the Red Knight has secluded himself at Dunmurrow for
reasons of his own. And he does not want a wife, no matter how wealthy
and beautiful she might be. But even he cannot defy the king's order,
and what comes to him, he takes—and holds.
Although Aisley refuses to believe the tales that make Montmorency more
myth than mortal, she begins to wonder whether he does possess
mysterious powers. How else to explain her own growing feelings for her
husband, a man so shrouded in shadow she has never seen his face?
Was she under a spell or truly the Devil’s Lady?
I had a review all mentally penned, then I, after finishing the book, read the author's notes at the end. You know that feeling you get when you keep reading anachronisms and location issues? The one where you immediately classify the book as a "wallpaper" historical, and the author as "lazy"? How about when you discover that the author deliberately dumbed down things?
Yeah. She didn't think we were smart enough to figure out location so she used countries that didn't exist yet, called garments by their english translations (and probably also words that didn't exist yet, or clothing that didn't exist in anglo-saxon). So I'm mad. Mad because I dislike being treated like an imbecile.
And I didn't like the h, the H, or the h's half sister. The h's stepfather made me think of an old man whose mind is slipping into his second childhood, the h was an arrogant, self-righteous know-it-all who didn't like playing second fiddle to anyone, the H was her equivalent though with the added bonus of being mistrustful (both were willfully stupid at times too), and the half sister was shallow, self-absorbed, and spoiled. Apparently the father had never worn the braes in his household, and when their mother died, he let his 8 year old stepdaughter take over the management of the estate. Right. And raising of the younger sister as well. So the younger sister has never been made to do anything, and the only times papa ever notices her lack of cooperation is whenever guests arrive, like the H, who, btw, wondered what sort of message papa was sending him when papa suggested younger daughter needed a husband and that older girl was betrothed (Oh I dunno - don't dally with my daughters perhaps?).
The highlight might have been when the h managed a meeting with her real father who was v. disturbed to discover she was the H's concubine (mom was a princess, dad was a king, yeah; can see how that would be a problem).
The reason for the rating on this can be summarized by a character study:
Amelia. Heroine. There's a fine line between willfully stupid and TSTL. She treated it like a balance beam. Her brother (unsure if older or younger) ran away from home so she took off after him...to Deadwood. This is the middle of the 19th century. She is neither an orphan, nor a widow. She got one of her father's employees to go with her, but I'm not sure how that's supposed to protect her against indian or gang attacks. Further, her clothing from the description likely needed a lady's maid to assist. Seems awfully modern in her thinking, particularly with regards to her virtue.
Parker. Brother. He's 22 going on 12. His first reaction at seeing his sister was delight, followed by getting pissy because she disapproved of him being in a brothel. His first reaction SHOULD have been horror, as in "what the $#@! are you doing here sis? This is no place for a lady!" and I don't mean the brothel; I mean the town. That pretty much set the tone of his presence in the book. He'd get pissy about something, ride into town, get plastered, gamble with money he didn't have, and visit the brothel where a girl he fancied worked. It was one of these excursions where the saloon owner came to pay him a visit, only to run into sis and proposition her to pay off the brat's debts. Boy wonder was more ticked off that his partner kissed his sister than concerned that his idiocy was endangering her.
Gabe. Hero. He's a former accountant turned gambler after his pregnant wife ran away with some dude with shiny and faked her death. He has no intention of offering for the heroine, but still pursues her. That's ok because she doesn't care about a little ol' thing like virtue (but her future husband might). He's in the process of pushing her away when his wife shows up from the grave.
Morgan. body guard of sorts. Mostly useless. Also an early proponent of gun control evidently. He's a big dude but is afraid to fight.
Mattie. Madame with a heart of gold
Big Jim Driscoll. Bad guy. Not implicitly said but likely the dude with shiny who lured Gabe's wife away. Owns local saloon, shantytown, and plays mob boss.
Samantha. wife. She's spent the past 10 years being a ho. Informs Gabe that he's a father. Tells him if he divorces her, he'll never find the kid.
And a few other minor characters.