Goddess of the Hunt by Tessa Dare
Lucy Waltham is the sheltered and hoydenish sister of Lord Henry Waltham and has missed being presented the last three years because her sister-in-law is incessantly pregnant or dealing with children. When she realizes that Lord Toby, the man she has fancied herself in love with since she was a young child because he has never treated her in the typical condescending manner of older men, is soon to propose to the pampered and beautiful Sophia she determines that she needs to win him over. She believes that the surest way to do this is by seducing him and she wants to practice her wiles on another of her brothers' friends, Jeremy Trescott, the Earl of Kendall. Things don't go precisely as planned and Lucy and Jeremy are both quickly in over their head as everytime the two are together an explosive passion ignites. Despite all evidence to the contrary Lucy is convinced that Toby is the one for her and it isn't until she discovers that Toby's touch doesn't affect her nearly as much as Jeremy's that she realizes she has made a huge mistake. Unfortunately Jeremy is still convinced that Lucy is in love with Toby.
When a hilarious mix-up with a forged letter leads to Lucy's reputation being called into question Jeremy offers for her to ward off any problems. Lucy is quickly coming to recognize that she is falling in love with Jeremy but she thinks that he is only marrying her out of duty and obligation. The two begin their married life off on the wrong foot as Lucy is terrified of growing closer to Jeremy and as Jeremy is increasingly dependent on Lucy to chase away the demons from his past. However he remains scared that his cold demeanor will end up ruining the full-of-life Lucy and so he pushes her away which leads Lucy to believe that he is regretting their marriage. She attempts to become the countess her brother led her to believe Jeremy wanted and this in turn further causes him to believe that he is losing the real Lucy. After Jeremy reveals to her the truth about his family; his brother's death, his father's chilliness and his mother's nervous attacks, Lucy knows that it is time to fight for Jeremy and the happiness she knows they can find together if Jeremy will only let them.
It is very difficult to imagine that this is Dare's debut novel as it is simply amazing. Both Jeremy and Lucy are perfectly well-written, realistic, flawed, damaged, lovable, caring, and ultimately perfect for each other characters. And what makes them so readable is that they recognize all these qualities in themselves and work them so well and together they bring out the best in each other. I have heard complaints that at times Lucy can be a little over-flawed in the way it takes her awhile to recognize her feelings, but I did not find that at all the case- she's superb. Other characters are equally as flawed and yet so likable from Lucy's amazingly inept and still overprotective brother to Lady Sophia, the woman Toby is in love with who fancies herself the center of a grand romance she has yet to find to Albert, the young boy who poaches off Jeremy's land and holds him responsible for his family's troubles. It is remarkable the way she writes these characters and while I know that I shouldn't like some of them because they, at varying times, stand in the way of Lucy's happiness, it's just impossible to dislike any of them.
Other elements of this book are equally perfect. Her writing is beautiful without being overly flowery and there is no need to skim through vast descriptions or unnecessary bits as it's all so eminently readable. There was a wonderful bit of angst and, like all truly great strong heroines Lucy didn't allow herself to wallow in it and instead set her mind to fixing what it was that was causing her unhappiness. I love it when characters do that. And our two protagonists are definitely incredibly attracted to each other and go at each other at nearly every opportunity; in the forest (twice!!), in a large wardrobe, in the bedroom, in a study, and in a hillside cloister. Very hot, as well written as the rest of the book, and a very important part of the actual plot development as it affected and was influenced by the way the characters dealt with their feelings for the other. There were so many scenes in the book that I read and told myself I had to remember so I could mention it in the review as being a must read, but there ended up being too many to actually write about.
Rating: Amazing book, very fun, and I am very much looking forward to the sequel. It wasn't very fast and it wasn't as "fun" as I tend to like in my romance novels. Between 4 and 5.