Normally, when I read a romance novel, I naturally identify with the heroine, if rooting for her to get her man is akin to identification. While reading this novel, however, I found myself fascinated by the workings of the mind of the male protagonist and instead, cheered for him to overcome his childhood demons and get his happy ending. It’s as if Cinderella’s prince was the more important character in that particular story than Cinderella herself; a wonderful twist to be sure.

The first in the London’s Greatest Lovers series by Lorraine Heath introduces Morgan Lyons, the 8th Earl of Westcliffe. Damaged in his youth by the early death of his father, the bitterness of his mother and jealousy toward his younger brothers, both for what they have (a higher rank and money for one) and what they don’t (the lack of noble responsibilities, for the other), Morgan accepts his role in an arranged marriage to the much younger Claire, a childhood friend of his younger brother, Stephen.

On their wedding night, Stephen’s penchant for mischief and Claire’s fear of her older, serious husband results in a three year banishment to the country for her and a separation that Morgan uses to rake his way through London. When circumstances arise and Claire is forced back to town to bring her philandering husband to heel, the two begin where their truncated marriage left off; they come to know each other better and begin to fall in love.

When danger lurks from an unpredictable source and tragedy results, Morgan realizes that Claire’s love can be trusted and he in turn comes to admit his feelings, no longer worried about feeling the vulnerability and insecurity that has followed him his entire life.

Lorraine Heath introduces secondary characters in this novel that provide the basis for understanding Morgan’s rakishness, his unwillingness to fully trust his wife, and his belief that he can never fall in love or trust love in return. His relationships with his brothers, especially the younger Duke of Ainsley (I’m assuming he will have his own sequel one day soon) his mother, his deceased father, his former paramour, Anne, even his beloved dog Cooper who dies and leaves him fully alone, or so he believes, explain why he did not give Claire a second chance after their wedding. These relationships also let us see why he feels he cannot let himself need anyone, including his wife, for whom he has feelings he’s trying so very hard to excuse away. I don’t think I’ve ever read another novel in this genre that uses secondary characters to this extent. They should all endeavor to do so.  After all, we are all the sum of our past experiences, shaped and molded by circumstances and people early on. The author brings this out wonderfully in this book, and it’s why I sympathize so strongly with Morgan. He’s simply trying so hard to get past all of it, and when he does, it’s like the sun coming out from behind a thundercloud; almost blinding in its intensity. I cannot wait for the sequel, Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman, the story of Morgan’s brother Stephen, which will be out December 1, 2010. This book makes its debut on November 1, 2010.

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