The widowed Joanna Ware has no grief over her husband's death as David Ware was a hero to the rest of England but abusive and a cheater to the wife he believed was barren. Although he left her no money upon his death she makes ends meet by being the darling of the ton and selling her decorative skills. Alex, Lord Grant, was David Ware's best friend and although Alex scorns the fame that David sought, he believed his friend when David claimed Joanna was heartless and a liar. He is not pleased when David tasks him with giving a note to Joanna on his death bed and even less so to discover to that Joanna does seem as superficial and uncaring as David had lead him to believe. Neither is happy to discover that David's last act was to appoint them both guardians of illegitimate daughter, Nina, on the condition that both of them go to the Arctic of Russia fetch her from the monastery where she lived.
Despite his mistrust of her and his outward dislike of her Alex begins to think that Joanna is far from the cold witch David painted her as. The more time Joanna spends with him the more she realizes that Alex is nothing like her husband even if they both are adventurers. Things become more complicated after the two share a kiss and while they both continue to not trust the other something has fundamentally changed in their relationship. Joanna wants Nina with a passion so decides to mount her own expedition to claim her and Alex wants to accompany her so that he can direct things and keep Joanna safe. Joanna realizes the only way to avoid complete ruination on the journey and provide a true home for Nina is to marry Alex and he agrees to a marriage with no strings or hold on him. But after a life threatening journey such a marriage is unacceptable to both of them and they must choose to take a chance on love.
I really liked Joanna as a character because she possessed so many seemingly incompatible qualities with a little bit of the cold, superficial, high society ton widow and some of the adventurous spirit of the more feisty romance novel heroines. It made her more real as she wasn't just a stereotype of a woman- she was more fleshed out. And through it all she was unapologetic about who she was, accepting that she had faults and that she liked who she was. Alex was not as well developed as Joanna in my opinion and the biggest thing he had going for him was that he was better than her deceased husband. While Alex's insistence on viewing Joanna through David's lies did get trying and I wanted him to start to think for himself, I liked the way his changing view of her progressed as he got to know her and it highlighted all the reasons that he was coming to fall in love with her.
I am not normally a fan of romances where the protagonists spend most of the book at arguing and this one saved itself from falling into that trap in the second half after their marriage when they were living on the ship and traveling. The adventure really allowed the two of them to spend some quality time together and get to know the other and moved being judging based on how David acted or what David had told them. There was a decent amount of sex between the two of them and it did get hot sometimes, but I felt like the sex definitely took a back seat to the emotional relationship between the two of them. The plot involving Nina was a little odd but obviously fit well with the story and I liked how it was solved at the end- it was heartbreaking, but so beautiful. The book also introduces the very unlikable Lottie Cummings, the heroine of the next novel who I imagine presents quite a challenge to a writer.
Rating: A wonderful heroine who I absolutely adored in a true romantic tale with a focus on the emotional development between the characters.