5 STAR TOP PICK *****
John Harris (aka John Nevison, aka Swift Nick, aka Gentleman Jack) has chosen to leave behind his birth name because he wants no connection to his abusive father. He tried being a soldier, then later became a highwayman. For years he has led a carefree existence, building up a notorious reputation. He steals from the wealthy, usually bestowing a kiss on his female victims, which they willingly give because he’s a very charming fellow. Time and time again, he’s had narrow escapes, yet now this life seems to be losing some of its allure. Jack accepts a job to deliver a package, and discovers that the package is a woman. He assumes she’s a runaway wife, or an unhappy daughter that he’s restoring to her family. When he delivers he, and sees that she’s immediately mistreated by a cousin trying to force her into marriage, Jack decides to return later and rescue her.
Arabella Hamilton is wealthy, a countess by birth, and single by choice. She has no wish to marry the sleazy cousin who has had her kidnapped, and is now holding her prisoner. Later that night, Jack comes back, sneaks in her window and leads her to freedom. He arranges a scenario where her cousin will be framed for a crime and imprisoned, so Arabella can live freely.
This is the start of a relationship between the countess and the thief. They feel a liking for each other immediately, and develop a friendship. Meeting is difficult, as Jack is still a wanted man when he is near Arabella’s home, not to mention that her reputation would be blackened if she were found to be acquainted with him. Arabella is unconventional and loves to write and travel; and one of those trips takes her to Jack’s neck of the woods, where he is free to live openly. She hides her own identity, and is just known there as Jack’s friend.
With each meeting, their bond and their affections grow stronger. Eventually they become lovers, knowing they don’t have a future, but choosing to live in the present. Soon, that’s not enough. They have fallen in love, yet can’t fathom any way to be together permanently. Their differences sometimes lead them to say hurtful things, and to part, but they keep coming back to each other however they can.
Jack had such a painful childhood, that he never imagined he’d want to marry anyone. Yet Arabella fulfills him, heals him, and fills the empty place in his life. Arabella never thought to marry, but Jack brings her love and excitement and happiness. Together they are perfect. Both of these characters are wonderful people brought to life in an emotional and sometimes heart-breaking story. How can this possibly work out for them?
Judith James based these characters on real-life people, as she’s done in previous books. Her writing is beautiful, exciting, and entertaining. I was enchanted by this book – it’s one of those that leaves you with a book hangover – in the best sense of the word. I highly recommend this and it’s definitely one of my favorite books of the year.
As Reviewed by Lady Blue for Romantic Historical Reviews