Rhys St. Maur, Earl of Ashworth, has survived several attempts on his life and chalks his still being alive up to fate. After fourteen years away he returns to his ancestral home on the moors of Devonshire where he runs into Meredith Maddox. Meredith is the daughter of his father's old head groomsman and she had harbored a secret crush on him. After her father was maimed in a housefather that burned the castle to the ground and forced Rhys to run away she married a man much older who left her an inn to manage upon his death. With no lord to provide jobs and spur the economy the small town is forced to rely on the business the inn does and the flourishing smuggling ring run by Gideon Myles. Meredith has worked her tail off for years to make the inn run smoothly and to make things good for the town, but when Rhys comes to town it throws everything out of sync.
He threatens the existence of the lucrative smuggling ring and his talk of fate and destiny make Meredith feel like he does not appreciate the effort she put into the inn. Reconnecting with Meredith has made it clear to Rhys that the reason he survived the war is so that he could come back to his hometown, marry Meredith, and set things to right. Meredith does not quite fall in line with Rhys' marriage plans but he knows how to win her over. He starts building a cottage for her father to live in and agrees to help pay for fixing her in up to quality standards. But Meredith knows Rhys' secret about his father beating him mercilessly and when he reveals his guilt over the fire that destroyed the castle, Meredith reveals a secret of her own that threatens everything. He knows that she loves him but he has some things to settle within his own past before he can let go and love her in return.
I will admit that Dare has a lot to live up to with the previous installment in this book which I absolutely adored. She is great at writing characters it is impossible to not like and this book was not an exception as Meredith was certainly great. Meredith is one of my favorite heroines because she was a genuinely working woman who liked what she did and most importantly, took a lot of pride in what she had accomplished. Rhys was not quite as likable as he was driven by some inner demons that turned me off and that I felt he should not have been quite as crazy about. His entire outlook on life was repellent as he admitted that he had been throwing himself into fights and battles in an attempt to lose his life. Then his sudden change of heart where he felt like the reason he had survived all of this was so that he could marry Meredith seemed a little out of character.
I would have liked more to be made of Merry's little crush/ love for Rhys because what happened when he confessed made him seem like an ass. He discovered that she had known that his father had beaten him and he literally freaked out and ran away. I thought it was weird. Their relationship in general just seemed to be lacking as they were at cross purposes for much of it and even when things were going well one of them was having issues and it didn't really make for much happiness. The sex between them was rather bland and I know that Dare could do much better in both quantity and quality. This book also continued the Stud Club mystery of who killed Leo and it led to a really great little extra romance between the smuggler and a reformed prostitute who had information about Leo's death. The mystery itself chugs along a little bit here but isn't resolved because we need to read the final book in the series.
Rating: Really Dare is a victim of her own success as she had a lot to live up. While the book was enjoyable I know that she can do better and I expected more.