Lord Hunter's Cinderella Heiress by Lara Temple
Before I even start this review, I’m going to take the unusual step of issuing some content warnings. For a Regency romance, this one does address some really dark themes, mostly because both protagonists are suffering from PTSD and must address their past traumas in order to move forward. If you have triggers for any of the following, this book may not be for you: suicide, death of a sibling, familial abuse, panic attacks, drug overdoses.
With that out of the way, I just want to say how absolutely amazing this book is. While all of the above themes are mentioned and discussed, they are done so in an intelligent, realistic way for the period. Lara Temple has very clearly done her research on the traumas suffered by returning veterans of the Napoleonic Wars and while her hero, Gabriel Hunter, returned uninjured in body, the death of his beloved younger brother has a very profound effect on his heart and soul. It takes a special woman in Nell Tilney - whose father is Henry Tilney, in what I can only assume is a deliberate nod to Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park - who is dealing with her own issues, to break through the walls Hunter has erected against the world.
Nell is heiress to a vast estate, but she is entirely dependent on her bullying father and horribly abusive aunt until she reaches her twenty-first birthday. The only place she can be free to be her true self is on the back of one of her beloved horses.
Seeing Nell first on a horse, free and joyous, and then browbeaten into a panic attack by her aunt, Hunter can’t help but try to intervene. It isn’t until four years later that Nell discovers just what he does to persuade her father to let her stay year-round at her beloved school until she reaches her majority, and the surprise announcement of their betrothal in the newspapers comes as a severe shock.
What follows is a sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant account of Hunter and Nell’s struggles to come to terms with each other. Both must compromise, both must learn to move forward from their trauma and accept that they are, in fact, allowed to be happy. This is a tale of recovery just as much of romance, two damaged people finding solace and safety in each other, and it’s one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in a long time. There are two more to come in the Wild Lords and Innocent Ladies series and I’m looking forward to them eagerly, because despite the sometimes dark themes this was nothing short of a delight to read. Five stars, and I wish I could give it more.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley.