***ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley***
Julian West returns to London on a hero's welcome and reputation, but he feels a fraud. There's nothing heroic in him, since he left his friend to die in the field. He intends to stay in London just long enough to fulfill his obligation, but his cousin's wife's request proves to be yet another obligation.
Eleanor's younger sister, Charlotte, the one who stole Julian's heart and broke it a year ago, is going through a scandalous phase now that she's out of mourning for her husband, and Ellie and Cam need Julian to curb her impulses. Julian owes Ellie, so he's willing to do anything to repay the debt he feels toward her, so he agrees, knowing that Charlotte's spell won't work on him twice. He's no longer the man she knew...But the first time he lays eyes on her after the year spent apart, Julian realizes, Charlotte is no longer the woman he fell in love with.
Charlotte and Julian's story, this story, is a perfect example of how a single decision can change one of multiple lives and futures.
In the previous book Julian first seduced Charlotte, then she seduced him, they both fell in love, but Charlotte suddenly found out Julian's true role in his cousin's scheme, and, cutting all communications, married another. She sent word of her nuptials to Julian on the day of her wedding, and he went off to war...Charlotte's husband died mere four months after the wedding, and his death, and everything that followed, changed her. Julian had also been changed in the battlefield and its aftermath...Their decisions, spurred by the misunderstanding and lack of trust, shaped them, changed their lives, and their characters.
But in the end, once it all worked out, once these two idiots actually talked to each other without the barriers of resentment, anger, hurt, and betrayal, it turned out the change wasn't that big at all; their new personas were just masks they hid behind, afraid to show their true self with all their flaws. And they ended up being the only ones who could look and actually see behind the other's mask.
This wasn't an easy story to read. It wasn't happy, it wasn't funny, it wasn't carefree. Far from it. It was dark, troubled, angsty, and turbulent. And I loved every single, dark, moody moment of it.
I didn't particularly care for either the protagonists' behavior; the antagonism was grating, especially since I knew their history and what was beneath their animosity. What bothered me the most was Charlotte's blasé attitude toward what her behavior meant for her family and her seemingly complete disregard for her sister's feelings. Yes, she didn't know what she wanted, she felt she deserved to be punished, but I don't understand why she felt her sister needed to be punished as well.
Oh well. She and her reasoning was off, I guess.
Julian, as he hero, was no better, hiding behind his icy veneer, blaming the "vast blackness" inside him for snapping at Charlotte, when it was obvious it all stemmed from his hurt feelings.
These two were so wrong for each other, especially in their initial states of mind, they were absolutely perfect for each other. A match made in dysfunctional Heaven, if you like, and I enjoyed every single bruising, hurtful moment they spent together.
Because I just wanted for them to figure it out, work out whatever bothered them individually and about each other, I wanted the truth to come out, and I wanted the blasted conflict to end. Which would've if they actually talked, communicated.
I usually hate these types of conflicts that stem from miscommunications, but I found myself enjoying this one, looking forward to each scene, each tidbit of truth that was revealed, because as dysfunctional a pair these two were, despite me not approving of all their choices and behavior, I was invested in these two characters.
Which just goes to show, what a great author Anna Bradley is for creating these two heavily layered, flawed, issue-laden characters, enveloping them in a complex, dark, and angsty story, and still making them shine, showing what was beneath their veneer and mask, keeping me rooting for them, keeping my fingers crossed they don't make an even bigger mess of things...
I got my wish. I suffered, but it was worth it.
Damn, what a wonderful story!