Getting back into the swing of things after having a baby, I decided what better way to jump in than to pick up Anna Campbell’s new novel.  Knowing Campbell tends to write on the darker side, that makes her even more of a favorite of mine, and she never disappoints.  My only issue with this book was that I couldn’t put it down! 

Lady Charis is on the run from her two greedy stepbrothers, who are determined to marry her off to the keeper of the enormous debt their father left them when he died.  Being the richest heiress in England, Lady Charis is invaluable to their plan to avoid debtor’s prison.  The stepbrothers abuse Lady Charis, hoping to force her into submission, however she escapes with her life barely intact and hides in the stables of a nearby inn, hoping no one finds her and returns her back to the stepbrothers that threaten her.  It is here that she meets Sir Gideon, national hero, who has just arrived back in England from India, where he was a spy for many years.  Gideon has survived the cruelest torture imaginable, and the hero’s welcome is an unwelcome sight for the man coming to terms with the monsters in his head.  Gideon stumbles upon Lady Charis hiding behind his horse, and does his best to assist her, knowing that a woman alone is only asking for trouble.  He can see what has been done to her, and his distaste for bullies prompts him to offer assistance even more.  Charis, being justifiably afraid of any man, finally accepts his help after many reassurances, and the giving of a fake name.  The two ride alone in his carriage to the imaginary aunt in Portsmouth, where Charis tries to make a break for it again, only to have Gideon come to her rescue again.  This rescue brings to light Gideon’s illness left over from the years of torture, and Charis learns that the man she owes her life to, has his own demons to fight. 

The two have a highly charged chemistry, and as Charis’ injuries heal, Gideon realizes just how beautiful she truly is, which makes their situation more difficult.  Charis accepts Gideon’s offer of asylum until she reaches her majority three weeks later, and she travels with him to his estate to the north.  She realizes she is falling in love with Gideon, and Gideon has to fight very hard not to succumb to his desire for her.  Gideon believes she deserves better than a wreck like him, and all Charis wants to do is love him.  The reappearance of the two stepbrothers forces their hand to what they can to protect Charis from her “family”, and they head off to Jersey to become man and wife to protect Charis.  This makes Charis deliriously happy, and Gideon miserable; he knows he can never be a true husband to her.  To touch him means to bring on the demons of hell inside his head.

The characterization between the two main characters is perfectly written, and they play off each other very well.  Lady Charis is most definitely a lady, but one that wishes to defy convention and life her live a little more freely than what the ton expects of the daughter of an Earl.  Her paralyzing fear of her stepbrothers is heartbreaking, and her determination to keep going is commendable.  Gideon is not your average hero, with his flaws and scars.  Beautiful, yes, but not the gentleman one would expect an Earl’s daughter to connect with.  I particularly love the way Gideon is written because he could have easily come off as being a complete nutcase and a hopelessly selfish man, but instead he comes off caring if not a little defensive, inspiring loyalty in those around him, and love in the woman he has pledged to help.  The images in his mind from his torture are vividly written in that dark, compelling way that only Anna Campbell can accomplish.  Campbell is the master at creating a character that is so flawed on the inside that you have little hope for their happiness, and then all of a sudden, it’s there.  The raw sensuality between the two because of Gideon’s affliction is more powerful than any sweat laden sex scene.  The desire the pair have for each other just jumps off the page.  And this is all before the pages upon pages of mind blowing sex.  Those can’t hurt either.  Definitely one to pick up.

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