on March 26, 2019
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
In Anabelle Bryant’s latest novel of ardor and ambition, a lord will stop at nothing to possess the woman of his dreams . . .
In monetary matters, Jeremy Lockhart, Viscount Dearing, is used to being in control, but from his first sight of Lady Charlotte, his carefully cultivated world is rocked to its foundations. Determined to best her other, more eligible suitors, he goes to great lengths to ensure his betrothal to Charlotte. A locked black leather box holds the dark secret that has assured his success. Innocent Lady Charlotte is baffled by her new husband’s behavior. Why does Lord Dearing seem so distant one day, and so attentive the next? Her family’s dire financial straits did not allow her the luxury of an extended courtship. If only she could entice him into the marriage bed! When at last Charlotte’s efforts are rewarded, she revels in Jeremy’s unexpectedly bold possessiveness. But outside of their bedchambers, her groom’s guardedness quickly returns. Passion is no longer enough for sweet Charlotte, who vows to unlock the mystery of this complicated man. The truth, however, might be more than her principled heart is prepared to handle. . . .
~~Review by Amy~~
Arranged marriage stories have always intrigued me. I can’t imagine marrying a veritable stranger. Lots of readers love them and I do too, but they really spike the tension for me. I’m a worrier and all I can think of is the myriad of ways such an arrangement can go wrong. But in the hands of Anabelle Bryant, it’s one of the most romantic stories I’ve ever read. And in her newest, London’s Best Kept Secret, it becomes one of the most empowering situations for Dearing and Charlotte to be placed in.
Jeremy Lockhart, Viscount Dearing was a quiet, reserved man. He was more than confident in his ability with finances but completely unconfident in matters of the heart. And with Lady Charlotte, he became riddled with self-doubt and devoid of conversational skills. So often he thought to approach her but then backed away. And unfortunately, other suitors were vying to fill the space. Once Dearing realized this, making Charlotte his became his sole focus. So he used what he knew best. Money. To ensure his betrothal to Charlotte, he went to great and somewhat underhanded lengths. Hopefully, Charlotte would grow in her affection for him before she discovered the truth of his actions. Because if she knew what he’d done to gain her hand in marriage, she would despise him. He needed a marriage based on trust and affection if it were to endure his betrayal. Dearing had planned their life meticulously but had failed to execute his plan, to change the status of his marriage from cordial to personal and, soon after, intimate. He knew he was to blame. He was so consumed by guilt, he couldn’t take what he so desperately wanted. His “crippling shyness and guilty knowledge of manipulative misdeeds” prevented him from approaching her. He was to blame for their fragile coexistence and it was time he did something about it. His very future lay at stake.
Lady Charlotte longed for the affectionate relationship her parents shared. Though she knew almost nothing of Lord Dearing, she admired him for extricating her family from ruin. She found him captivating, intelligent, heroic, and exceedingly handsome. She was certain, once married, they’d grow into friendship. And in time that friendship would hopefully grow into more. But they’d been married 10 months. 10 months without an embrace, a kiss, passion. Nothing but a stagnant, awkward tension that grew between them each day. She felt useless and unwanted, afraid Dearing didn’t desire her as she longed for him. She’d tried to be an amenable and biddable wife but politeness was getting her nowhere. It was all so confusing.
After turning to trusted friends for advice, Charlotte and Dearing both decided it was time to make changes. Dearing must court his wife, get to know her, woo her. Charlotte must become more courageous, flirt more. It was time for action. And things did change one step at a time. Sometimes three steps forward and one step back, but they were changing. It was obvious each craved the other’s nearness, affection, and admiration, but they still had much to learn about each other. Their marriage evolved slowly. Conversation, laughter, flirtation, and passion began to replace the cordial but strained relationship they’d shared. They were becoming closer each day. Both were beginning to feel a sense of contentment and unexpected relief. Finally, that elusive happiness appeared within reach. Would it be enough once Charlotte discovered the truth?
I was so anxious for Charlotte and Dearing’s story. I first met them in the first book of this Midnight Secrets series and it was more than obvious that Charlotte was unhappy in her marriage. At the time, I wanted to shake Charlotte and tell her to speak up. And I wanted to kick Dearing because, frankly, I thought he was a jerk. But of course, Anabelle Bryant worked her magic like she always does and showed me so much more of these two characters than I’d previously seen. It didn’t take long for me to fall completely in love with both of them and cheer for them to find their happily ever after.
What I’d mistaken for callousness and aloofness in Dearing was really insecurity, self-doubt, and fear of rejection. Dearing had incredible business acumen and no difficulties dealing in business affairs. He had no difficulty around women either when nothing was at stake. But “Charlotte elicited a strong and tangible reaction in him. She owned his heart.” Sure, his tactics gaining her hand weren’t the most admirable. But who could fault a man so desperately in love?
Where I’d first thought Charlotte was spineless and needed some sense shaken into her, I discovered she was quite strong. She didn’t jump to conclusions. She weighed things out in her mind. She worried that perhaps Dearing didn’t find her attractive. She too feared rejection. She felt restless and helpless at times but she remained hopeful. Hopeful that they could learn, grow, and evolve. I loved that about her, and the fact that she was determined to make the marriage work because she saw the goodness in her husband.
Their entire relationship truly moved in reverse of the norm. They were married before ever getting to know one another, court, and fall in love. I loved seeing that relationship and affection grow. It wasn’t always easy. There were definitely obstacles in their path that caused them to lose ground. But with each success, each smile, touch, embrace, or kiss, they each grew more confident and bold. They evolved together for each other and because of each other.
Dearing, who I’d thought an uncaring jerk turned out to be one of the most romantic and loving heroes I’ve read. And Charlotte, who I’d thought a wimp, was actually one of the strongest and level headed heroines I’ve known. It truly was like watching a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis and revealing itself to be something amazing and beautiful.
I am amazed at Anabelle Bryant’s talent in drawing these characters so well. This slow evolution of their characters, as well as their relationship, added so much to the story. The little intimacies that come from living together became even more powerful, and the slow but steady seduction amped up the sensuality. The love that unfolds between Charlotte and Dearing is tender, and the sexual tension between them practically crackles. When they finally came together, the passion was explosive.
I feel such a connection with this author’s books. Her vivid characters, beautiful and eloquent prose, and brilliant imagination always help me escape real life for a few hours and just daydream about a completely different time and place where there’s always a happy ending.