I have to admit at about a quarter into this book, I couldn’t figure out what was businesslike about the marriage of this couple at all, because quite frankly they seemed to have fallen quite thoroughly in love with each other while exploring Florence (and where better?) However, as the story went on, I came to realise that Aidan was in absolutely no fit state to have his heart engaged, no matter how well he and Estelle suited each other. Aidan’s past is a very slow reveal, with a dead first wife and a miserable marriage behind him, and it took me about another half the book to say “wait a minute, this is very much like Rebecca, except Estelle isn’t meek”. Of course, I wasn’t surprised to read the author’s note at the end which admitted this is indeed her take on Rebecca with a second wife who wasn’t willing to be passive.
Readers should be aware that Marguerite Kaye doesn’t shy away from tough topics. Aidan’s first marriage deteriorated beyond repair because his first wife was obsessed with having a child. Now, I went through IVF to have my two sons, so infertility is a tricky topic for me, but I do think the author deals with it sensitively, even though she doesn’t gloss over the appalling toll it can take on mental health and the strain it can put on a relationship. Reading about Aidan and Aoife’s trials made me very grateful for the modern medical miracles which brought me my children. I also really like that Kaye doesn’t go for ‘magical resolutions’; a lot of authors would have written in Estelle getting pregnant at the end of the story, but Kaye doesn’t go there. It’s not completely ruled out, but both Estelle and Aidan are determined to adopt. I’d actually like to see them making steps in that direction by the end of the book, but this story really was about resolution of past trauma by facing it, rather than papering over the cracks.
The first part of the book is the ‘romance’ part of it, really; Estelle and Aidan meet in Florence and there are some charming scenes as they get to know each other, with Aidan’s ghosts only hinted at this early stage. When they return to Aidan’s home in Ireland is when things get tough, just as when the second Mrs de Winter arrives at Manderley. There’s even a forbidding housekeeper who, fortunately, turns out nothing like Mrs Danvers!
If you come into this looking for a typical Regency romance full of balls and handsome rakes, you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re willing to let the author take you on a fascinating adventure through Italy and Ireland and into the heart of a couple who desperately want to make their marriage work despite past difficulties intruding, you’re going to absolutely love this book. I give it five stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the author.