In a number of historical romance novels, the protagonists are more than likely kept apart until the very end by some seemingly trivial misunderstanding. I kept waiting for that trick to expose itself in this new novel, the first in the new Abandoned at the Altar series by Laura Lee Guhrke. I soon realized, however, that Will Mallory, the Duke of Sunderland, and his once intended bride, Lady Beatrix Danbury had no such misunderstanding. Life simply took them down two separate roads six long years ago. One went to Egypt to follow his life’s dream while the other stayed home in England to follow hers.
Six years ago, Will and Beatrix, childhood sweethearts, were engaged to be married. In fact, they were two short weeks away from that walk down the aisle. Will receives a missive from a famous archaeologist inviting him to search for King Tut’s tomb in Egypt. He must leave straightaway, but tries to persuade Beatrix to come with him. Trix, as she’s known, is tied to England’s shores by her parents’ history. Her mother ran away when she was nine and her father fears losing his daughter to the same fate. Unhappy and feeling the pull of her family and her aristocratic responsibilities, she decides not to go with Will, and he, as heartbroken as she, leaves. The engagement is broken. It takes Trix five years to find someone to help her really begin life again (and that would be Aidan Carr, the Duke of Trathen, whose story is told in the next installment of the series, Scandal of the Year). While she doesn’t love Aiden the way she loved Will, Beatrix feels she’ll be content with him, and she begins to live her life again.
When Will unexpectedly comes back to England to beg for funds to continue his expedition, he and Beatrix are thrown together with disastrous results. Tempting fate, they feel the pull of first love, and are caught in a compromising kiss. Aidan breaks off the engagement, leaving Trix on her own again. I began to worry at this point that this story may not have the happy ending I’ve come to expect from this genre. Perhaps this will be the one exception to that happily ever after rule that leaves me with that smile on my face and proverbial song in my heart, even if it is for fictional characters finding their destinies with each other. It’s the reason why I keep reading these books. What this story actually comes down to is this; There is no “trick” as to why these two are not together. Sometimes love is just not enough.
To the author’s credit, I have never read a novel in this genre that is so rich on introspection and relatively light on dialog, at least in the first part of the book. This is not a bad thing. Throughout the first two-thirds of the story, Beatrix and Will each have many moments of reliving their past. Ms. Guhrke mixes the present day with poignant childhood memories revisited by both and this makes the story a bit wistful and more than a tad melancholy in many places. Every memory is analyzed and hashed out until you are fully and totally vested in the couple and their history. It is an amazing feat, really. By the time the novel ended, I felt I knew these two inside and out, and I felt badly for both of them in equal measure.
When certain confrontations force both Will and Beatrix to question themselves and their choices in the last third of the novel, we watch two people mature and finally come to terms with their childhood love and the separation that has colored everything since.
Can Will persuade Beatrix to let him make things right? Can he again persuade her to marry him and go to Egypt with him six years after he originally asked? Can Beatrix make that leap of faith, leave her surroundings and her comfort zone, and finally, truly be with Will? Is there no compromise these two can make? Things were looking very dicey for a while. But let me just say this. There is a meeting of the minds, and that is all I’m going to say about the ending of this wonderful love story by one of my very favorite authors. I finished the book days ago, and I’m still sitting here with a smile on my face, and that song in my heart. Ms. Gurhke once again delivers, and in extraordinary fashion. Bring on the sequels.