Mary Balogh is a hit or miss author for me. I always admire her writing, but she doesn't always grab me emotionally. Her newest is definitely a hit. A lovely, warm story that strikes all the right notes.
Alexander Westcott is the new Earl of Riverdale, a title he never expected to inherit (for more about that read the first two books in this Westcott series). Alex is responsible and honorable and he's faced with a massive challenge. Though he inherited an estate with the title, he didn't get the money that would support it. And the estate and the tenancies are in bad shape. He needs an infusion of money and finding a wealthy bride is tops on his list to solve the problem. So an offer from wealthy neighbor, Wren Heyden, should be the answer. But Alex isn't sure he can say yes.
Wren Heyden was loved by her aunt and uncle and inherited a large amount of money from them. But since their deaths she has been alone. Always a recluse because of the disfiguring (to her mind) birthmark covering half her face, Wren is nevertheless determined to wed so that she can have children. She has interviewed a number of candidates and Alex is candidate number 4. He quickly realizes he's participating in a job interview and weighs whether he can accept or not. It is not the purple mark on Wren's face that is holding him back. Instead it is the clearly crippling effect Wren's insecurity and pain have had on her that worries him.
Up until his recent inheritance, Alex had led a pretty uneventful life. He has close attachments to his family and he's a nice, honorable guy. Wren is a recluse who hasn't allowed anyone other then the members of her household see her face in years. She is stiff and cold when meeting strangers (because she's petrified) and it's clear that she's suffering the effects of a severely traumatic childhood. To Alex's mind he's just not sure they could ever be happy because of all of Wren's baggage. In fact, half the time he doesn't even like her. And yet, he can't get her out of his mind.
Wren and Alex are complicated, fully drawn characters who balance each other nicely. Loved every minute of this one and now I have to go back and look through Ms. Balogh's backlist.