Author: Sarah MacLean
Published: March 2010 (Avon)
Category: Historical Romance
Series: Love by Numbers #1
I came upon this book when reading a Book Binge review for the second book in the series, Ten Ways to be Adored When Landing a Lord. I wanted to read that book, but I have a thing about reading a series from the start. I'm really glad I did that, and quite happy to add Sarah MacLean to my list of "must-read" authors!
Lady Calpurnia Hartwell is a spinster. Granted, she was never really a success when she first came out, but the fact that the only suitors she received were too old or cared too much about her dowry. She's also more curvy than the in-fashion slender figures and is always comparing herself to them. Since coming out, she has been in love with the one man who showed her some kindness, a notorious rake, Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston. Ten years after she meets him, her skinny gorgeous little sister makes a brilliant love match with a duke, and Callie is reminded of how she'll never have what her sister and friends have. So she figures that if she isn't going to have what she always thought she'd have, why not live a little, and do some daring things that a respectable lady wouldn't dream of doing? After all, she believes she's so firmly on the shelf that she doesn't have to worry about her reputation.
Gabriel figures into the first item on her list: Being kissed passionately. While Gabriel agrees to help her with the kiss, he gets her to agree to help his newly-found half sister, Juliana, enter into society. While a wealthy marquess brother should pave the way, his sister is the product of the scandalous dowager marchioness, who abandoned her husband and sons for the Continent, where she cut a swath through more men, including Juliana's father. Her entrance into society won't be easy, as stuffy people would consider Juliana illegitimate, but her status is fuzzy.
As Callie goes into her list, Gabriel keeps intercepting her, and feels like he has to save her from herself. He doesn't quite know why he wants to do it, but he gives the excuse that if she shreds her reputation, who will help him launch Juliana? They become partners in crime while they start pushing the boundaries of propriety exploring their attraction to each other. This is one of those one-sided love stories, where one member is totally in love with the other, and the other one doesn't believe in love. I thought it would frustrate me, but the story really worked.
I thought the book would be a lot funnier, but it was more serious than expected, not in a bad way though. You really feel Callie's sadness as people rudely comment about how she's a fleshy spinster, and how her sister made such a wonderful match. She's so lonely, and no one wants her for just being her. And Gabriel is a man who never learned to love, thanks to his mother abandoning their family when he was a little boy. Callie's faith in love is what he needs to break out of his shell and pull his ragtag family together.
I loved the hodge-podge family the Ralstons made, with Gabriel's twin brother, Nicholas, who is the star of the next book, and Juliana. They're just getting used to the idea of being a family and I think it'll make for even better reading for the rest of the series, especially Juliana's book, which will be released in April this year.