When Alexander Randall discovers that he is the current heir to the Earl of Daventry, he sells his commission and returns to England. He knows he should think about marrying, but the one woman he can't get out of his mind is midwife Julia Bancroft. When he goes to visit her he discovers that she has been kidnapped and heads off to rescue her. Turns out Julia has been in hiding for over a decade after her husband's death was not accepted as an accident by her father-in-law, the current Daventry and Alex's uncle. Her husband, Brandford had been incredibly abusive and while attacking Julia he had slipped and died. Julia lived with the consequences for years and does not think she can ever stand another man to touch her, but Alex is persuasive and promises that he will allow her to leave after a year if things do not work out between them, although he hopes they will.
Back in England, Daventry is horrified to have Julia back, but gleeful to announce that Alex is no longer his heir, and Julia is worried that Alex will come to regret her barren status. Slowly Alex and Julia work on their relationship with each other and Alex slowly woos his wife away from her fear of men and intimacy and it is not long before she is happy with her marriage. Alex has his own fears when he discovers that Julia is actually very well connected in society with many noble relatives and a very large inheritance. He is worried that Julia will eventually want to take her place in society and she won't be able to do this married to a mere army major. When the two discover that Branford had had an illegitimate son, it becomes important for Julia to find him and make him a part of their new family. But there are still people who have not forgivenJulia for Branford's death and want her to pay, and Alex will have to protect what is his before both of them can admit they want this marriage.
Too often when dealing with a heroine with a horrible past, she either gets over it far too quickly or it drags on and brings the entire book down. Here, Julia is certainly affected by her past and it influences who she is and what she does, but she is strong enough to move on, both in a living her life sense and in a romantic sense. Her past is something she and Alex work on together, and he does an equally great job of helping her as she does helping herself. I really enjoyed a midwife for a heroine as it allows the author to showcase her remarkable talents and her nurturing, helpful, loving side without making her too gosh darn helpful and sweet. She really proved herself to be strong and capable and her actions about Ben were written so perfectly that I could see why she wanted to take in her horrible husband's bastard. Really, there was very little about Julia that I did not absolutely love.
Alex was also very well written and a decent amount, if not quite enough, of the story was from his point of view, so even when I thought he was wrong I could understand why he was going through those things. Daventry as a villain was absolutely brilliant; he was mean and yelled and at times downright cruel, however he was so screwed up about losing his sons and his actions at the end towards his wife and his bastard grandson really lent him a human element and made him a very well rounded character. The side plot about them being killed was handled very skillfully as it was important in the story, but not overwhelming. My biggest problem in this book were constant references to things I assume happened in other books and, in the beginning at least, constant appearances by characters from previous and future books. It got better by the end as I came to like these characters too, but for a while it was annoying.
Rating: A very well done book really with truly great characters and some really intense moments, but the beginning was a tad slow with all the backstory.