The 6th book in the School for Heiresses series.
At eighteen, Charlotte Page made a life altering mistake. She wronged a man in an impulsive act that she came to deeply regret, though it led her to her present life as Mrs. Charlotte Harris, owner of Mrs. Harris’ School for Young Ladies. Unbeknownst to her, that man is now her anonymous benefactor, the mysterious “Cousin Michael”. His masquerade began as preparation for a devastating revenge, but became a labor of love. Now Charlotte desperately needs his help. Can he save her from disaster as his real self without revealing the ugly secret behind his charade? Or will the mistakes of both their pasts tear them apart forever?
When Charlotte was just 17, her father dragged her to the Kirkwood estate, because he wanted her to marry David Kirkwood, the heir to the viscouncy. So she would marry a title, and his friend the current Viscount Kirkwood would get his money. Both fathers thought it a good match, not regarding their children’s wishes. Threatening to put her on a boat if she didn’t obey him, Charlotte is forced to be nice to David. Only she really hates him after him naming her Miss Monkey, a hateful name that stuck with her all her childhood. David of course has long forgotten that episode, he just thinks he is too young to marry. Until he sees what a gorgeous young woman she has become. Then he really wants to marry her.
But Charlotte is wary of him. He has a reputation of being a rogue after all. And after living with her rogue and bully of a father, she really doesn’t want her husband to be just like that. So David has to convince her of his good characteristics if he wants her.
And just when he has managed that, Charlotte sees him in the most compromising situation with one of the servant girls who was flirting with him earlier. So back in London, she decides to write him a letter that will make him back off, so her father won’t punish her for it. But due to some strange happenings, that letter is published in a gossip newspaper. So David’s reputation is torn to shreds as everyone knows it is him. And Charlotte is forced to run away with Captain Harris, an other suitor of hers, to get away from her fathers anger.
David is livid, she has destroyed his reputation, and why? So he nurses his hurt feelings, burying the love he felt for her. But society keeps giving him the shoulder, and he cannot find a decent wife for years. Until his father commits suicide, and he is saddled with the enormous debts. He has to find a heiress right away. So he marries Sarah, the worst choice possible, as with her gambling and airheaded ways she ruins their marriage from the start. David buries himself in his investments, and his architectural hobby, just to keep out of her way.
But now Sarah has been dead for 6 months, the School is in difficulties due to the last scandals from her pupils, and the machinations of that nasty Mr. Pritchard next door, and Charlotte needs his help. He can’t wait with that till the mourning period is officially over. So David concocts a scheme, making Charlotte think that Sarah left the school a large sum of money, under certain conditions. But getting close to Charlotte is a mistake, as he can’t keep his hands of her, and that seems to go both ways.
Then the dead of is his wife is found suspicious and David is under suspicion of murder. He cannot drag his relationship with Charlotte in this mess, and what if she ever found out he is this cousin Michael? Surely it will kill her feelings for him for good. Was Sarah really murdered? And by whom? Even his own brother seems to know things he did not…
I really liked this book, it had some really unsuspected twists in it. Of course Charlotte has been the staunch headmistress in the previous books in this series, always there for her pupils and teachers. But now she is the target of seduction, and her own lessons fly right out of her head when David kisses her. And David, wow, is he ever hung up by his own actions. A plot of revenge turned into love, but he really is a control freak. I really did not expect Charlotte to give up her ambitions to become his wife.
I am not sure if I like David very much, he is not active enough when he should be. And very pushy when he should not.
Of course, the previous characters make an appearance in this book, which I always like. To know a little more what happened with them after the ending of their own book.
Unfortunately for me, the next book I want to read, The truth about Lord Stoneville, is no longer available at my bookstore, so I’ll have to search farther away for it before I can start that tempting series. He didn’t play that big a part in those books, but I am curious about him nonetheless.