For the past decade Harry, the Earl of Wycliff, has worked feverishly to reclaim all that his father had lost. Only one item remains elusive: the Gainsborough portrait of his beloved mother. And the impossibly young, stunningly beautiful widow Louisa Phillips holds the key to finding it. If only he can persuade her to help him . . .
Let me tell y’all what! If you aren’t familiar with the work of Cheryl Bolen and you’re a fan of historical romance, I highly recommend checking out her thoroughly engaging and entertaining offerings. My latest read, The Portrait of Lady Wycliff, took me on an adventure from London through the English countryside and back to track down a scoundrel hellbent on destroying a good man and his family. With romance, danger, and deceit, this one has a bit of everything for the historical romance enthusiast. Here’s the skinny:
Plot: Harry, the Earl of Wycliff has spent the last decade recouping the vast fortune lost by his late father. Though the money is certainly important, Harry is also interested in reclaiming all the property, both large and small lost through his father’s poor habits. With a single-minded focus and determination, Harry has nearly reached his goal; all that is left to reclaim is his family home in London.
Louisa Phillips is happily widowed, proudly outspoken, and in a world of financial trouble if her late husband’s solicitor is to be believed. With little in the way of prospects, a life time ahead of her, and her younger sister coming to live with her, Louisa has nothing of value except her writing career and the home she shared with her late husband.
As it turns out, Louisa doesn’t own the home she lives in, she has no idea who does, and a very charming and certainly not-to-be-trusted man, Harry, Earl of Wycliff wants the home. With nothing left to do but accept his offer, Louisa embarks on an adventure that will change to course of her life.
Characters: As always, Bolen has provided a cast of characters that is meant to enliven not just the present read, but the series as a whole. Harry and his two friends, Sinjin and Alex are introduced in their last days at Eton together where they promise one another, no matter the circumstances, they will always be there should anyone of the trio need help. Though Harry is the focus of this book, his two great friends have their role to play and certainly enrich the read as they do Harry’s life. They are there when Harry calls and more than willing to run headlong into danger for their friend.
Louisa is a bit of prickly character, but that has everything to do with the circumstances of her life. She hasn’t yet met a man, including her father, who has treated her well and has no expectations of ever doing so. She is reveling in her widowhood and looking forward to spending the rest of her life fighting for social change. Though she doesn’t initially trust Harry, Louisa understands her position is precarious, and she must take control of her own life and future rather than relying on a man. As the plot and the danger unfolds, Louisa mellows just a bit and that makes her a far more likeable character. Once her prickly edges are smoothed, Louisa is quite lovely and heroine well worth rooting for.
The Bottom Line: Once again, I fell into Cheryl Bolen’s book like the embrace of an old friend. She is just my kind of historical romance writer with dashing and daring men, and women who are always confident, outspoken, and somewhat ahead of their time and place. Bolen doesn’t write shrinking violets or uppity, wimpy aristocrats and that is one of the things I enjoy most about her books. Louisa and Harry seem to be such an unlikely match, but everything about their relationship and its progression is absolutely natural and plays well with the overall plot. The plot itself has just enough of all the things it needs: just enough romance, just enough intrigue, and just enough danger! I am so excited for the next two books in this series and just can’t recommend this book enough to readers.
Since being named Notable New Author for 1997, Cheryl Bolen has published more than 35 books with Kensington/Zebra, Harlequin, Love Inspired Historical, Montlake, and independently. She has broken into the top 5 on the New York Times and hit the USA Today bestseller list. Her 2005 One Golden Ring won Best Historical, Holt Medallion, and her 2011 My Lord Wicked was awarded Best Historical in the International Digital Awards, the same year her Christmas novella was chosen as Best Novella. Her books have been finalists for other awards, including the Daphne du Maurier, and have been translated into eight languages. She’s also been the number 1 bestselling historical romance author in Germany. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English from the University of Texas and a master’s degree from the University of Houston. Her favorite pursuits are reading diaries of dead English women, traveling to England, and watching the Texas Longhorns play football and basketball. She and her recently retired professor husband are the parents of two sons. One is an attorney, the other a journalist.