Miss Belle Heartstone—heiress and savvy businesswoman—needs a husband. Immediately. As in, yesterday would not have been soon enough. Her mother’s attempts at matchmaking have been disastrous. So Belle decides to solve the problem her way—survey the market and purchase the best groom available.
Colin Radcliffe, Marquess of Blake—debt-ridden and penniless—needs a large infusion of cash. Desperately. Preferably cash that does not come with a wife attached. It is no surprise, then, when he receives Miss Heartstone’s brazen proposal—her cash, his title, their marriage—that he politely declines.
But before he leaves her, Blake suggests something truly radical: Maybe before finding a husband, Belle should find herself.
His simple words send them both on an unexpected journey, spanning continents and years, entwining their lives in ways neither could have foreseen. Can two lonely souls move past societal expectations and forge a unique life together?
What extraordinary characters Belle and Colin are! Both are ahead of their time in their beliefs and actions. Colin especially for his opinions on women’s abilities and independence. Even today, I think you would be hard pressed to find a man who isn’t challenged or threatened by a woman who is smarter, wealthier and more competent than he is. That isn’t to say Colin isn’t all those things himself. I love how he not only gently rejects Belle’s proposal, but he takes the time to really see her. In doing so he is able to give her the encouragement she needs to change her life. What a special hero he is.
But Belle, she is the ultimate heroine. She certainly qualifies as an early proto-type feminist. She takes charge of her father’s business empire and grows it. She breaks free from the expectations of her culture and society to marry. But she remains very much a lady. She challenges conventions without offending. When I grow up, I want to be like Belle.
I really enjoyed how Van mixed the two tropes of anonymous pen pals with the friends to lovers romance. It’s hard to get one trope right, much less two. Their initial interaction lead to their correspondence when Belle secretly decides to invest in Colin’s business as a way to show her gratitude. Colin meanwhile comes to respect and rely his investor all while believing it is an older man willing to mentor him. Later when they meet in person for the first time in years, the groundwork is laid for their strong connection. But so is the conflict, since Colin has no idea that it is Belle he has been writing.
Nichole Van is one of my favorite authors, but this is her first straight Regency story. I enjoyed it as much as I have her time travel titles. It is a longer re-write of an earlier work of hers that appeared in an anthology Spring in Hyde Park, I really appreciated that she decided to expand that story with more detail. I didn’t feel the least bit cheated that I had read the novella format earlier. I continue to be fan of the author and hope more people have the chance to discover her writing.