The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan
Miss Jane Fairfield is the richest woman on the marriage market, but she has no intention of marrying any time soon, and her merchant background has already made her fodder for the gossip mill. She needs to remain unmarried so she can continue to live with and protect her younger sister, Emily, who suffers from minor seizures and their uncle allows her to be "experimented" on by doctors. She decides to let her independent nature and outrageous tastes rule over her and soon she is more well known for saying whatever comes to her mind and wearing unbelievably atrocious outfits than she is for her immense dowry. One of the men she's managed to upset with her blunt honesty is Lord Bradenton, who happens to hold a powerful and prominent role in Parliament. Mr. Oliver Marshall ha spent his entire life trying to prove himself and to earn a place in Parliament, even if it often meaning shoving down his own emotions, and his goal is to one day be Prime Minister. Brandenton tells Oliver that he will throw his considerable influence behind Oliver's attempt to extend the franchise, but only if Oliver will humiliate Jane publicly, in return for a slight she visited on him.
Oliver has always thought of himself as better than that, and he cannot imagine intentionally hurting someone else who has done him no wrong, but the promise of so much support is more than he can turn down and he agrees to Bradenton's request. His first meeting with Jane is not what he expected as she is much more intelligent and self-assured then her facade has lead him to believe, and Jane can't help but be drawn to Oliver. She thinks his status as a society outside, because he is a duke's bastard, even if he is acknowledged by his half brother and thinks of his adopted father as his true father. Through several meetings, Oliver becomes more and more convinced that he could never hurt Jane because he is falling in love with her, but he also knows that marrying her would be political suicide and so when the time comes, he does not embarrass her, but does allow her to walk away from him after no more than a kiss. However, he promises to always be there for her, and when an emergency arises with her sister, he is the only one she trusts and Oliver realizes he cannot let true love slip through his fingers again.
Jane was a nice change of pace from Milan because while she still had the haunting past and the familial issues, she also was outrageous and flamboyant in a way that was impossible not to like. Instead of coming across as naive, Jane came across as someone who thought her way out of big problem and wasn't afraid of putting her own reputation at risk to help those she cared about. Oliver's past was so well developed and, even while disagreeing with many of his choices, I could understand why he did the things that he did. I loved his epiphany at the end when he realized he was tired of always being "safe" and knew that he wanted to live dangerously and take a chance on Jane. While normally the idea of characters just being "drawn" to each other, which is different than sexual attraction, is laughable, Milan always manage to pull it off with skill, because she is so great at writing well rounded character emotions and thoughts and the reader really can see why the characters are just "drawn" to each other.
Their relationship was very well written and the two spent quite a lot of time together and I loved that they were always honest with each other, if not always with themselves. I could really tell that these two belonged together and would suit each other and work well in everyday situations. There was not a lot of steam in this story and only a couple rather short, and unexciting sex scenes towards the end of the book, which was definitely disappointing as I felt like these two could have scorched up the pages- especially given her outrageousness and his stuffiness. There was also a secondary romance between Emily and a student at the nearby university, which came with lots of strings attached because she has seizures and is still under the control of her guardian, and because he is Indian. That relationship is short and sweet and ends on a funny note with him turning back Emily's uncles' fears back on him.
Rating: This was more fun than many of Milan's stories, but featured her hallmark wonderful writing and well developed characters who are perfect for each other.