Major Westhaven's Unwilling Ward

Major Westhaven's Unwilling Ward (Harlequin Historical Subscription, #259) - Emily Bascom

My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...

Major Westhaven’s Unwilling Ward, book 2 in the Westhavens series by Emily Bascom, proved to be a major improvement from book 1. This had much more to offer to me; a sexy and broody war hero and a feisty little heroine who won’t give up on him, even when I was getting exasperated with him. It made the whole affair sweeter, and I enjoyed watching the stubborn oaf fall.

Major Westhaven’s Unwilling Ward is set in the early 1780s. Major Daniel Weshaven has seen it all, even though he’s only in his early 30s. He sure feels like an ancient man! He’s a war veteran, whose career ended swiftly after an injury, though failed to take his life, left him maimed. This harsh reality, apart from the fact that he’d lost many of his good friends and comrades including Robert Penvensey, made Daniel’s life unbearable. The truth that he’d always have to be without a leg hit him hard. Daniel didn’t know if he’d ever be able to keep the promises he made to Robert about his younger sister, Lilliana, before his death. He always wanted Daniel, whom he held on high esteem, to become Lilliana’s guardian. The Penvensey siblings were orphans and she’d be basically left all alone in the world if Robert’s not there for her. But a broken, angry and frustrated with life Daniel returned home and became a complete recluse. He was recuperating at his family estate Oakridge with only a few faithful servants like the old butler, John, in attendance. He didn’t want anyone to know about his weakened state. The prideful man in him wouldn’t let him, for you see, Daniel was battling not only the demon’s of war, but also the depression of being made to feel ‘less of a man’ due to its adverse affect on his body.

For those who read The Rogue’s Kiss, book 1, Daniel is Kit and Roisin’s son, the heir. He has more siblings but most of them are married, living far away. None are introduced in this story but only by mention. Either way, Daniel wouldn’t see them, neither was he interested in returning to the polite society where he was once very popular, if not for his dark good-looks but for his charming and confident personality. After a year of grieving for his old self, Daniel finally takes it up on himself to inquire after his ward, secretly, also sending her a monthly allowance when it became apparent that she needed it ASAP. But most of all, Daniel wanted to see her in flesh because in his pain-induced fevered dreams, Daniel dreamed of the beautiful young, blonde girl, a small likeness of whom he’d seen thanks to Robert, before he perished. He still possesses that painting till today.

Lilliana, or Lily, is in dilemma. A seemingly big one. After her parents passed away and Robbie went to war, she was fortunate enough to stay with an aunt, who took her in and loved her as a daughter. Heartbreakingly enough, Lily got the news of her only brother’s passing a year ago. Then her aunt’s sad demise left her quite effectively alone in this world. Her aunt’s wastrel of a son is not as caring and wants to sell the small townhouse she’d been living in until now. Lily doesn’t need a lot to go by for she knows how to be frugal. She’d gotten rid of most of the servants when her financial troubles became very apparent. But now, she doesn’t know how long she has in this house, and what she’d do if she’s forced to leave. She’s thankful for the small amount of allowance she’s been receiving for the past couple of months from a ‘mysterious benefactor’, whose name her lawyer wouldn’t divulge but that he was known to Robbie. Lily longs to meet this man and thank him in person, if only she could know his identity.

The opportunity for them both arrives at a ball that Lily was attending, quite in desperation to find a husband before all is lost. She knew this is her only chance to solve her financial problems. Maybe her last before her cousin decides to throw her out. Lily is beautiful and revered by many men for her golden good-looks, though they don’t appear to ask for her hands because of the lack of a dowry. Yet there are some young beaus that she’d like to impress with in hopes of a proposal. Lily’s trained in the ways of a Lady of the ton. Her experiences have taught her that men generally like vapid, twittering women, and so, she’s forced to assume such a façade so that she can finally find a husband though she hated every minute of it.

This, though, gets her in trouble with Daniel who identifies her on spot. Of course Lily had no idea but when she finds him looking at her, she’s flustered by his intense stare nonetheless. But Daniel wrongly assumes that she’s an air-headed creature like the rest of her peers here. Needless to say, he’s disgusted. He never expected the smart Robert Penvensey’s sister to be such a disappointment. Maybe, it was also because secretly, Daniel wanted her to different than the rest of the Ton ladies. When they’re introduced, it was apparent that both harbored dislike for each-other; Daniel for obvious reasons, Lily not knowing why this handsome stranger is so critical of her or why is he so rude as to deny anyone asking for a dance. Then she accidentally eavesdrops on him talking to a group of men, where he’s rather unkind with his words about her vapid nature. This really hurts Lily and I could feel her pain. This was just a big, fat misunderstanding. Before the ball ends, Daniel decides to introduce himself as Robert’s friend, and her guardian, which definitely shocked Lily into speechlessness!

The very next day, while Lily is contemplating why Robert would make a rude man such as Major Westhaven as her guardian, he arrives as promised in the ball. There, he also confesses about sending her money. Then he makes it clear that Lily has to move in with him at his townhouse or at Oakridge, wherever she likes it the best. But Lily has NO intentions of living under his roof. I loved it that she doesn’t forget to remind Daniel that she’d heard him in her own sarcastic way. Now it was Daniel who was mortified. They manage to have a civil conversation afterwards where they reminisce about Robert. Daniel was pretty sure that Lily didn’t care for anything but balls and gowns, not even her only brother. When he hands her over that miniature Robert carried, Daniel finds Lily in tears and had to change his mind. Of course he was wrong! One good thing comes from it though, Lily agrees to move in with him.

Now don’t judge Daniel harshly. He has suffered enough, and has changed after his time in the war. Unfortunately, he trusts very few people and keeps his life very private because of that damnable pride. I, never once, blamed him for being frustrating in the story.

Next, when Lily comes to visit Oakridge, there is another misunderstanding. Daniel is, again, rather short with John because he made a comment in front of his guests. If you’ve read book 1, you’d know that John has been in Daniel’s family for a long time and was a close friend to his father, Kit. And sadly, he’s the only character still living from book 1. Kit and Roisin have already passed away. Nevertheless, Daniel’s behavior towards his elderly servant doesn’t make him anymore popular with Lily. She’s pretty disgusted. When she confronts him about it, they have a minor spat. The result? And angry Lily running out in the rain, adamant of never living in this arrogant, bad-mannered man’s home. Daniel runs after her........ and we have our first kiss. :D Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, because Lily was attracted to Daniel no matter what. I don’t think I have to clarify what Daniel felt. He was positively having difficulties in keeping his hands to himself, which clashed with the words he’d given to Robert. He was there to protect her, and not take advantage. Besides, he was not ready to divulge his secret to anyone, if ever.

Daniel’s determination to keep his injury a secret becomes THE ISSUE in the story. He’d always make sure that no one but a handful of trusted people knew about it, even if it kills him, even if he hurts someone in the process. And he does hurt Lily over and over again every time she tried to get a little closer, hoping, praying that he’ll let her. Also, their misunderstanding regarding their feelings for one another, and the expectations, led to a few disasters. Being rebuffed by Daniel more than once, even after melting kisses, Lily was sure he’s not that interested in her. Maybe he prefers experienced women, which Lily certainly is not. She feels jealous and hurt, but she also knows she has no claim on her guardian.

At that point, a wastrel, who was after Lily’s now-more-than-sufficient dowry, decides to take advantage. That guy, though the heir of an Earl, has never before given her any special attention other than mild flirtation until the news that she’s Daniel’s ward became public. He was a spoiled brat who had no respect for women and was very sure that Lily would be over the top after his proposal. As in, he’d be doing a big favor to her for which she’d be forever grateful, and he can enjoy her dowry to his heart’s content. Lily and Daniel’s misunderstandings work on this guy’s favor and he’s permitted to court her, though none wanted him anywhere near Lily. Lily had no particular liking for that guy. She just wanted to return the favor to her guardian by getting married ASAP so that he doesn’t have to bear her responsibility for long. And Daniel thought Lily had feelings for the wastrel. As I said, misunderstanding, and boy was it frustrating! I can’t really blame Lily because Daniel’s earlier comments about her didn’t help, as that guy was one of the peeps in that gathering.

But when the time came, Daniel couldn’t come to terms with giving the wastrel the permission to marry Lily. He just couldn’t see them together, secretly acknowledging that it disturbs him to imagine Lily with anyone but himself. Daniel wanted her so much, yet he thought he’s just... not man enough and no woman would ever want the half-man he’d become. Obviously he was vulnerable about his injury, yet if only he’d let Lily in, things would be so much different! Because of their continued misunderstanding, that wastrel was able to take full advantage of it by kidnapping Lily, angry after being rejected. Debt, and greed, made him blind, a bit insane too and Lily couldn’t believe that once upon a time she thought him a friend! But thankfully, this incident brought some stuff up front. Daniel got the scare of his life when he’s made aware of the kidnapping. I’d be superbly unhappy if he was still being obtuse and presumed Lily ran off with that guy but he didn’t. He saw reason when Lily’s maid made some valid points as to why they should consider this a kidnapping.

The injury, the pain of long hrs of horse riding or exhaustion, nothing deterred Daniel from giving them a chase on his own. When he finally caught up with them, I was more than a little thrilled about it. It was one of those times in the story where he should’ve let his feelings known. Unfortunately, he still wasn’t sure if Lily would welcome him with open arms or be disgusted by his injury that doesn’t particularly look pretty. I understood his vulnerabilities, yet his rejections were hurting Lily, and me, equally. I was more than a little frustrated at this point but Lily wouldn’t give up on Daniel. She kept trying, even when he was being short-tempered or rude. She remembered that day when John told her that the war changed him in more ways than one, the reason why the old man was never cross with Daniel no matter how he behaved. Lily was desperate to find out exactly why and just how much. And she wanted to help him a little by offering solace. If only he’d let her in.......

The best scene of this book comes at the last chapter where Daniel finally gives in. It becomes apparent that after months of being pushed away, Lily was going to give up, then leave his home because she couldn’t live like this anymore; deeply loving a man who wouldn’t let her in. This was made worse by the fact, which Lily instinctively knew by then, that Daniel felt the same. He cared for her deeply, yet he won’t trust her with whatever he’s keeping a secret. Lily was just resigned... And that got to him. Daniel understood that he needs to take a leap of faith here and now, otherwise he might lose what probably is his only chance at happiness. That scene was heartbreakingly beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. All he needed was Lily’s acceptance, which she does by opening up her heart to him even more. Taking him in her arms and by showing him just how much she loves him no matter what.

I missed that there wasn’t an epilogue, much like book 1. After so much push and pull, angst and frustration, there should’ve been one. I needed to see them in marital bliss, even with children, I don’t know. I just needed to see that love flourishing afterwards. Right now, I’m just glad that I didn’t give up after reading book 1. 4 stars and recommended.