Benedict Harper has finally accepted that he will never be the man he was before his war injuries. His legs were crushed, and doctors wanted to amputate, telling him he would never walk again. He didn’t allow it, and was determined to walk, dance, and be a soldier. It’s clear now, that while he is able to walk with an awkward limp with the aid of a cane, that’s as good as it’s going to get. Ben’s younger brother Calvin, has been managing his estate, and has ensconced his family there, and is reluctant to leave. Calvin tries to wrap Ben in cotton wool to protect him, but instead, this leaves Ben with no real home or duties. Ben decides to travel, hoping to find some purpose for his life, but first stopping to visit his sister.
While visiting, Ben is out riding his horse, feeling freer than he has in a long time. He almost bowls over a young woman, who was out walking with her dog. First impressions do not endear them to each other, as each blames the other for the near mishap. Samantha McKay, of course, not knowing of Ben’s injuries is appalled that the “gentleman” didn’t even dismount to help her up and ensure she wasn’t hurt. Samantha is newly widowed, and had been nursing her dying husband for five years. When he finally passed away, his awful sister, Matilda, came to stay with Samantha. She takes over running the household, and in her exhaustion, Samantha allows it. Matilda also has taken over running Samantha’s life, dictating what she wears, who she sees (virtually no one is allowed to call or visit) and closing up the house in darkness. Similar to Ben’s situation, she has abided by Matilda’s rules to keep the peace. Now, after four months, she’s starting to feel alive again, and resents the restrictions.
Ben and his sister come to call, and despite Matilda’s objections, Samantha receives them. Now that she understands why Ben didn’t assist her, she loses her resentment, and the two become friends, of a sort. Matilda finds Samantha’s behavior unacceptable for a widow, and packs and leaves for home. That normally would be a good thing, except that her father is even worse than she is, and he owns the house. He orders Samantha to come and live with him, as the house will no longer be available for her. Now desperate, Samantha remembers that she was bequeathed a house (a “hovel”) in Wales from her deceased mother. Deciding that even living in a hovel would be better than living with her father-in-law, she plans to leave for Wales. Since he was just about to leave on his own travels, Ben insists on escorting her.
What a wonderful journey this is! I loved their chemistry together, and the slow building romance. They share conversations, plans, and decide to become lovers. Ben’s anxiety over his limitations was for nought. By the time they reach Wales, it’s clear that they’re very much in love. There are surprises in store for Samantha, though, and it appears that she has found her place in life, while Ben still has not. It’s a joy to read romances like this, where there isn’t a villain keeping them apart, they just need the time to discover who they are and where they belong.
This is the third installment in Mary Balogh’s Survivors Club series, and since the trope of wounded warrior is one of my favorites, I’m loving it. The idea of several people who have been injured physically, mentally, or both, living under one roof and helping each other is a winner. Samantha and Ben have been beaten down by life, but they’re not out. Their journey is sweet, romantic, and touching. Highly recommended.
Lady Blue’s review originally appeared at Romantic Historical Reviews.