The Truth About Lord Stoneville by Sabrina Jeffries 428
Maria Butterfield and her cousin Jeremy Dunse have come to London from Dartmouth, Massachusetts, to find Maria's fiance, Nathan Hyatt. Hyatt had been sent to London on a mission from Maria's father's shipping agency, New Bedford Shipping, and he has since gone missing. Maria and Hyatt had become engaged at the behest of Maria's father, who had no sons and wanted to pass his shipping empire on to someone he can trust. But now that Maria's father has died, Maria needs Henry in order to have access to her funds. She and Jeremy chase a man carrying Henry's satchel into the brothel where they are confronted by Oliver, Lord Stoneville. Oliver is not at all a happy camper as his grandmother, Mrs. Plumtree, has just threatened to disinherit and cut off Oliver and his four dissolute siblings if they don't all marry by the end of the year. He sees this Catholic American woman with a trade background as the perfect person to help him call his grandmother's bluff. So he takes her and her cousin back to his family estate, Halstead Hall, to pretend to be his fiance in exchange for helping her find Hyatt.
What he had not counted on was finding Maria quite so interesting and so loyal to him. Rumors abound that Oliver was somehow involved in his parents quite tragic death as his mother shot his father before killing herself. Oliver finds Maria sympathetic, quick to protect him from scandalmongers, and she has an amazing smile that warms him. Maria realizes that the dissolute image and heartless facade that Oliver presents to the world is just his way of protecting himself from being hurt by society's whispers. Oliver is scared that Maria is marrying Hyatt for all the wrong reasons and he quickly discovers that he does not want Maria with any man other than him. Quickly their fake engagement is all too real and it turns out that the grandmother's disapproval had been a bluff all along and she heartily approves of matters. But when a private detective finds Hyatt, and Oliver is terrified that he does not have a strong enough hold on her, but he knows he cannot lose her love. He has to use all the power he has at his disposal to save the woman who saved him, from the man who betrayed her.
Maria is absolutely amazing and I loved her from the very beginning! She goes off to London to get what she wants showing amazing gumption for an unmarried woman, she kind of allows herself to be bullied into pretending to be a fiance but she always manages to hold her own, and she can really see inside of Oliver to understand where he's coming from and what he is really like on the inside. All romance novel heroes have hidden depths, but Oliver's are particularly special because they really are so transparent to anyone who would care to look, and he is so obviously desperate to have someone look. I love that he wants to protect her from making the same mistakes his parents made (marrying for money) and is also so desperate to avoid the same mistake himself. It really makes his aversion to marriage more believable and not so gag inducing as some other excuses I've read. The love these two felt for each other was almost palpable and I loved it. There was also just enough steam and Jeffries, as usual, does a great job with it.
I believe that this book brings up several character's from Jeffries' previous novels, however I am not quite sure and I like that I was not hit over the head with them so much and their happiness is just kind of briefly mentioned enough to be satisfying. Mrs. Plumtree was also incredibly well written. I am not a fan of the overbearing grandmother's or the grandmother's who are just too precious and hold all these secrets and know what is going on. Mrs. Plumtree is a great balance between all of it and is just great. Hyatt was also great as the villain of the story as he was an awful person for what he did, obviously, but at the same time his motivations were actually well explained and he did not end up being a horrible treasonous bastard. His little mistake also lent a great side plot to the story as well as I loved reading Stone's fears about losing Maria and how much he needs her, wants to protect her, and can't bear to give her up to another man. And there was also, at the end, quite the interesting little development involving the well named Jeremy Dunse, and a woman who equally deserves the last name she eventually takes on.
Rating: I loved this book; it had great writing, two amazing characters, and an incredibly well developed romance and relationship.