My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Ann Clement’s debut novel, Debt of Honor, had been a thrilling read! It was surprisingly good with great writing, storytelling with twists and turns that kept me hooked till the end, not to mention, the characters.
The last thing Sir Percival Hanbury, or Percy, wanted was a marriage of convenience to get back what should’ve been his by right. Wycombe Oaks was Hanbury ancestral home for hundreds of years until a tragedy and a foolish night of gambling (thanks to his father) passed it onto his neighbor, the Earl of Stanville. Percy’s mother had already passed at childbirth leaving both father and son bereaved. Edward had been wrecked with guilt and misery; a man given up on life, who drank heavily. After Wycombe Oaks also passed on, one day he too left this world when months of heavy drinking finally took its toll.
After that, Percy had lived with his aunt and uncle, who were very warm and affectionate. But all Percy ever wanted was to get back Wycombe Oaks. It’s not like he needed it. Percy was rich and had the means to buy whichever house he wanted to. He had Bromsholme, another big, thriving estate where he was currently living. However, his pursuit of Wycombe Oaks was purely emotional. It was the ‘home’ where he grew up in; where his best memories were of his parents, happy together. Even in this completely ruined state, as Stanville did nothing but suck it dry, Percy wanted it back to return it to its past glories. And no matter how extravagant a price he offered, Stanville like the very devil he was, refused to sell Wycombe Oaks back to him.
One day, all of a sudden, Stanville stops by with an offer. To make long story short, his only heir, a girl name Letitia, has recently been ‘ruined’ and was of no use to him any longer. He wanted Percy to marry her. In return, along with her dowry, he’d get Wycombe Oaks. And that’s the only offer he’ll ever get to get back his childhood home.
So no, Percy didn’t want to marry. He had once walked thru that path which ended in utter disaster. It was a largely unhappy affair, with his wife cuckolding him before her death. Percy has always held himself responsible not knowing what went wrong. And maybe because of his failures she became distant and took a lover. The guilt of it all, Percy has shouldered over the years, deciding never to want a repeat performance. He’d loved his wife, deeming theirs a love-match, even though Sarah wasn’t as warm quite soon after their marriage. He’d also remade their apartments after Sarah’s death, not wanting to live in the ‘same state’ and moved to another part of Bromsholme. Everybody knew he loved Sarah madly, still mourned her but no one knew the ultimate truth of her death. Of course, rumors spread from that ignorance claiming Percy a murderer, but he didn’t care. He was still adamant in his decision. But his great need of getting back Wycombe Oaks rather defeats the purpose. When Stanville refuses monetary offer once again, Percy finally gives in and agrees to marry Lady Leticia with every intention to keep the marriage ‘white’. There’d be no consummation, no heirs but Percy didn’t wanna dwell on that at that moment.
Leticia had a horrid childhood. Being the only daughter of an utterly selfish, degenerate man couldn’t have been easier; a man who had no love or affection for his own family. He’d mocked his own wife with humiliation until the day she died of a broken heart leaving Leticia all alone. Leticia grew up being rather unwanted as Stanville had no respect for women. She sort of expected to become a pawn to her father’s whims sooner or later. Stanville didn’t stay at their home for long, having plantations in some Caribbean country, where he spent most of his time. And his penchant for gambling, women and other sorts of debauchery was well-known.
What happened to Leticia was just a rumor gone horribly wrong. She was betrothed to a man she liked but wasn’t in love with. But Leticia wanted this actor whom she used to know. While she thought she was in love with Walter, he was in love with her money, all the while planning to grab her dowry and her pretty, exotic looking maid, Josepha as soon as they marry. But Josepha was more than a maid or a lady’s companion to Leticia. She was her best friend, the older sister she’d never had. In short, Leticia couldn’t do without her Josie for a day because she was probably her only solace in those lonely years.
But things somehow went awry. When she found out about Walter’s tricks and his leering stares at Josepha, Leticia drew the line. Then she found out in hard way how much she disliked his kisses, which made her resolve to refuse his suit. Of course, he took revenge in help spreading the rumor about Leticia being pregnant, a complete lie. But irrevocable damage was already done to her reputation and she was as good as ruined in every way to her despicable father. All he wanted was to dump Leticia with someone and wash his hands off of all responsibilities. Leticia was then told she’d be marrying some stranger and was summarily banished to this ruined estate.
Wycombe Oaks was as shabby and dilapidated as they come. And she has to be here until her marriage. Leticia couldn’t understand why her father let it go to rot. In her artist’s mind she could imagine once, when thriving, the estate was beautiful.
Leticia has heard of Sir Percival of course, he’s a neighbor to their estate. She’d also heard of the rumors that paint him to be quite the formidable man. While she waited for her impending ‘doom’, as it seemed the marriage would be, all Leticia could do was to indulge herself in the only solace she had, her artwork and paintings. Only she didn’t know she’d be meeting her destiny on a fine morning, while painting the surroundings of Wycombe Oaks. A handsome, dark haired young man stops by as if conjured up by her imagination and begins a conversation. Leticia is intrigued by the man’s aloofness, yet there’s something about him that wants her to unravel his cool and calm exterior. They talk for barely 15 mins., which doesn’t tell her anything about him. Then he goes away as suddenly as he’d appeared. He’s on Leticia’s mind long after that. Though she tries to forget him, knowing she’ll never see him again.
Until the moment they marry, Leticia doesn’t find out it was Percy himself. He was there to take stock of the state of Wycombe Oaks. He had no idea that Leticia had been banished there, but when he does, couldn’t help checking out his bride-to-be. And what he saw blew his mind. It seemed the rumor of her blonde beauty wasn’t quite a rumor. She is beautiful, and graceful. Percy wondered if he can remain as aloof as he planned to be, and keep his marriage ‘white’ if he’s already so attracted to his unwanted bride. Leticia, on the other hand, is very surprised to find that the man who’d been in her thoughts these past few days, is indeed Sir Percival! She’s excited, thrilled, yet annoyed as hell. Men! Her experience with men in her life hasn’t been positive in any sense, so from day one, Leticia begins to think of an escape plan. Even though Percy had been very polite and civil, he was also very distant. It was apparent that apart from what he’d gained in the marriage, Percy had no interest in her, not anymore than her father ever had. Would this be her fate forever where men would simply see her as a pawn and nothing else?
On the wedding night, Percy informs her about his decision about non-consummation, to the utter dejection of Leticia. She had no idea and this only proved her point; that, once again, she’s an unwanted entity in a house full of strangers. But then, after dropping that particular bomb, Percy goes out at night not returning until dawn, while she lay awake in her bed. This is what strengthens Leticia’s resolve, that enough was enough. Percy settles on a very handsome monthly allowance and she begins planning an escape to America as soon as she gathers enough money. Josepha though, disapproved of it because she kept telling Leticia that Percy isn’t either like her father, or Walter.
Over the course of the story, Josepha proves to be a very observant and intelligent woman and I liked her immensely. With an air of innocence about her even though she was in her early 30s., Josepha had a very hopeful view of the world which was rather refreshing. Nevertheless, Leticia wasn’t about to take any chances and become chattel to another man, most especially to someone who might as well end up breaking her heart.
But as the weeks pass by, Leticia can’t help but wonder if her husband really did have a mistress because Percy was going out every night and stayed away until morning. But what she didn’t know was that Percy had no mistress and hasn’t been with anyone during or after Sarah’s death. He was no womanizer and life has dealt him with so deep a blow where women were concerned that he daren’t hope for anything else. At night, he’d go out visiting his old home, reliving memories and making plans on how to fix and improve it. One day, a fed up Leticia decides to confront him, which is when the truth comes out. She pays him a surprise visit at Wycombe Oaks, finding that her husband has been busy indeed. I was so happy that this misunderstanding was resolved sooner, rather than later, before festering into something unholy between them. But what inspires the artist in Leticia most was Percy’s unrivaled excitement at being his ‘home’ once again, and absolute happiness when she requests him to give her a tour of the house. She saw the happiness shining in his eyes, which, for some reason made her want to witness it again... everyday. Leticia begins to see the big, crumbling estate as a beautiful home through Percy’s eyes, with every room coming to life in her own mind’s eyes, which she’d then go back and secretly sketch in her notebook. It’s not like Percy would ever be interested in what she thought of his home!
Wycombe Oaks, again, becomes to center of their relationship. First, they were married because of it, then as Percy and Leticia begin to spend time together more and more, touring the estate, it also brings them closer than they could’ve imagined. Leticia begins to realize she’d married an awesome man; kind, generous to a fault, a veritable gentleman. The gossips were simply gossips where his character was concerned. It also helped that he was so handsome, darkly brooding when he was engrossed in his thoughts. Leticia knew she was this close to falling in love with him, even though she had no idea what his feelings were, if he indeed had any for her.
Of course, Percy had feelings. Even though he tried to stay distant, he now knew that apart from her exceptional beauty, Leticia was also a very talented artist and definitely not the spoiled young miss he initially thought her to be. Moreover, when he found out her sketches about Wycombe Oaks, something irrevocably shifted inside Percy’s chest. He was a man who was largely governed by heart and passion. Who wanted to fall in love madly and there was a very good chance he was falling for his ‘unwanted’ bride, who was unwanted no more.
After a few reluctant kisses, Leticia’s plans for escape go out the window. She wanted Percy beyond anything and if she could read him well, he returned the feelings. No matter what lay ahead of them, Leticia wanted a true marriage. Percy had already told her it was in her hands, that if she wants it, he’s willing. Even though Leticia didn’t know much about Sarah and what transpired between her and Percy that makes him so reluctant to grab at the happiness that’s beckoning them, Leticia is determined to change it. But would the man, who by all accounts, was so in love with his first wife, be amenable to her kisses and touches? Most especially, would he ever come to love her as much, if not more, than Sarah or would she continue to rule their marriage from beyond the grave?
Again, it made me immensely happy when Percy and Leticia finally consummate their marriage. It opens a door for them both that they didn’t even know existed. It was like a wave of passion and pleasure drenched them both, leaving them blissfully happy. Percy was still apprehensive that sooner or later, he’ll end up botching his seemingly perfect marriage with Leticia, who continues to surprise him at every turn. He can’t imagine wanting Sarah as much as Leticia, who also proves to be a wonderfully passionate lover. Percy couldn’t have been happier. He was a man smitten, well on his way to falling in love with his wife. With her touch and kisses Leticia also shows him every day that she feels the same about him. It was too good to be true, and apparently, Percy kept waiting for the axe to fall. The inevitable to happen. It’s like he didn’t believe it’ll last.
For him, the proverbial axe falls around 3 months into their wedding. Leticia finds out she’s expecting. She’s overjoyed not only for herself but also for Percy, couldn’t wait to share the news with him. What was supposed to be an occasion to celebrate turns out to be a complete disaster. Percy acts as if she’d just kicked him in the gut, then screams ‘adultery’ in her face! Leticia is stunned into silence, but then his words begin to make sense. It seems because Sarah never conceived once so Percy had decided it was him who was impotent. What an irony, because her suicide note, the contents of which no one ever read or saw but Percy himself (he was the one who found her), claimed that she was expecting. Just before that Percy had found her in flagrante delicto with some guy. She claimed the baby to be her lover’s. So, of course, Leticia has made a cuckold out of him! *SMH*
For Leticia, who was already very weary of the fact that she couldn’t make him see things any differently, this was simply too much. The man she’d come to love has accused her of something she can’t even imagine doing. It seems Percy would forever be haunted by this woman’s dark influence over him. When Percy harshly orders her to leave, Leticia throws it back to his face; how can he be sure that Sarah was telling the truth?
So Leticia leaves, taking only Josepha with her. But her first stop was to her father’s. Fortunately, the man wasn’t at home so Leticia takes a few days to think things over. At that point, an older fellow, claiming to have been his father’s acquaintance, pays an unexpected visit. The man’s story, the admission of how Wycombe Oaks was stolen out of Percy’s father simply breaks Leticia’s spirit again. She knew her father to be a horrid man, but to know Percy was robbed off something that was his to begin with was just unbearable. As if to amend her father’s treachery, Leticia plans on a few things. But first, she’d have to find him, then confront him to straighten out the truth.
At Bromsolme, Percy was inconsolable. When the initial rage and the influence of alcohol wore off, he began thinking clearly. It strikes him then; he and Leticia spend almost every hour of every day together. She’d spend every night in his bed ever since the consummation, and he knew for certain she was untouched when they did. So when did she have the time to take a lover? Then her question also begins to resonate because there was no way to ensure if Sarah, indeed, was pregnant.
Then, the secrets and shadows of Percy’s life comes out in a bizarre set of events. There was this widowed sister of a friend called Ethel. She was Sarah’s bosom buddy and after her death, it seemed wanted to become the mistress of the house, though her participation in everything was absolutely unwanted. Percy resented her presence quite a bit but being a gentleman he had resisted saying anything. It escalated when she also drops by to ‘make friends’ with Leticia. From Ethel’s POV, you could see she had zero liking for Leticia, her resentment palpable. It’s got as much to do with Percy never giving her a second thought as the fact that Leticia has taken ‘her dear Sarah’s’ place in the house. Aside from that, she was on the hunt for something secretive around the house when no one was looking. Everything about her from the beginning felt wrong. Her resentful tone where Percy was concerned was what made Leticia, who at first thought of taking up on the offer of Ethel’s friendship, distance herself. After an incident, which was a deliberate act on her side, was all Leticia needed to understand that Ethel was up to no good.
In the course of the story, what Ethel was looking for, is unearthed by a third party. Percy was made aware but he hadn’t given it a second thought, until his old and loyal butler, who also never liked Ethel for always questioning the staff’s efficiency when she had no business of doing so in the first place, hands it over to him after Leticia’s departure. And from there, a story of utter treachery is revealed. It seemed Percy himself was the pawn to a plan. The fool who hadn’t known a thing through his entire marriage, or whatever happened even before it. Needless to say, it opened Percy’s eyes to the whole truth and his Lettie’s impotence in his life. Without her, Percy now realized that he’d have no life left to live. She’s his first and only love and he’d do anything to bring her back where she belongs; by his side.
When Percy was unraveling the shocking truth of his past, Leticia was being informed of another shocking story of the past by her father. Another story full of betrayal, hate and revenge that destroyed 2 families completely; hers and Percy’s. It crushed whatever spirit she had left, knowing the suffering Percy and his father had gone through, which already started after his mother’s death, all because her own father was a self-serving, arrogant fool who couldn’t think beyond his own needs. At that point, heavy with grief and guilt, Leticia decides she can have no life with Percy in any way. He deserves a better life, a fresh start with someone else with everything her father stole from him. Leticia had the means to blackmail Stanville, after which the man is finally forced to return the valuables he’d stolen from Wycombe Oaks.
But the question remained, what of Percy and Leticia? While she’s bent on creating stories to make Percy leave him, he was equally determined to convince her of the truth. The whole truth of his marriage to Sarah. And the fact that he can’t live without her, and their child. Oh the ending was absolutely wonderful, as was the epilogue! I was so happy for these two, who totally deserved to be with one another. I really liked Leticia. She was not only intelligent but also very determined. She finally stood up to her a$$hole of a father to get what she wanted. As for Percy, even though he could be a dunderhead at times, he was a total keeper!
Before I finish off, I must mention this. While I enjoyed Percy and Leticia’s story, I was also beginning to enjoy the budding romance between Josepha, whom I already mentioned I loved and Percy’s estate manager, the handsome Mr. Petre. Mind you, it didn’t go that far when the story ended but I’d SO like to find out what happens to them! This is another couple who deserve their HEA IMO. 4.25 stars.